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There's More Work To Be Done To Ensure All Songwriters Get Paid Their Due
During the drafting of the Music Modernization Act, the Recording Academy made unclaimed royalties a top priority. After all, ensuring that all songwriters are properly paid was the fundamental reason behind the legislation. Now that the historic bill has been passed into law, the U.S. Copyright Office has been tasked with the process of implementation, including determining who will build and administer the Mechanical Licensing Collective (referred to hereafter as the Collective), effectively distributing billions in songwriting royalties – no small task.
In fact, this is when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, in terms of implementing key portions of the MMA and placing those unclaimed royalties in the wallets of the songwriters who earned them. In this spirit, the Recording Academy has remained vigilant on behalf of music creators by carefully considering the options and voicing its position directly to the Copyright Office regarding endorsement of a group to take over the Collective—two entities are vying for the designation, the American Mechanical Licensing Collective (AMLC) and the conveniently self-titled Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC).
Ultimately, the Academy believes that the MLC bid, led by the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and Songwriters of North America (SONA) is best suited to run the Collective. But while the joint submission meets the statutory requirements set forth in the MMA, it has significant room to improve regarding the process to match unclaimed works and conduct outreach to all songwriters to educate them about this new royalty process
For this reason, the Academy has encouraged the Copyright Office, via official comments, to seek "Additional information…regarding accurate data matching and songwriter outreach to ensure every songwriter is properly paid for their work."
Another key player in this process is the Digital Media Association (DiMA), which represents the major digital service platforms such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Spotify. These services played key roles in passage of the MMA, and are tasked with paying for the Collective’s operations.
So far, DiMA has withheld endorsement of either group, raising serious concerns about the budget demands outlined in the MLC's proposal, especially compared to AMLC's, which is significantly smaller.
But to take a step back from the ongoing debate between the two entities, which garnered more than 400 official comments, the reality is that more work needs to be done to ensure all songwriters, including unaffiliated, independent, self-published, and DIY are informed about the Collective so they can register and get paid the royalties they are due. To that end, the Academy has pledged to work with whichever group is chosen and with the Copyright office to support and educate the music community to ensure all songwriters realize the promise of the MMA.
Specifically, the Academy asks that, "Before making a final designation, the Office should ask MLC to make a more explicit commitment to delay the distribution of unclaimed royalties if such a delay is necessary to ensure that royalties are matched to the appropriate copyright owners to the greatest extent possible, in accordance with the discretion provided under the statute."
As we await the Copyright Office's decision, the big question they face remains: will they heed the strong recommends by the Academy and DiMA alike to dig deeper into the submissions and solicit answers to some critical threshold questions? The answer, no doubt, will make all the difference for songwriters.