Posted on June 29, 2018
Tennessean: Music Modernization Act: US Senate panel approves landmark music industry bill
By Nate Rau
June 29, 2018
The Music Modernization Act cleared the often-combative U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday with a unanimous voice vote, putting the music industry-backed legislation on the precipice of becoming law.
The bill, which would overhaul how songs are licensed for digital music services and aims to improve royalty payouts to songwriters and publishers, would arguably mark the first music copyright reform in about 20 years.
Bart Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, said that as recently as last week there were issues to iron out in order to answer questions raised by some senators. Though there is still work to be done, Herbison said he is encouraged, particularly by the unanimous vote. In addition to discussing the music bill, the judiciary committee showed its partisan divide by debating how quickly to confirm a replacement for retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
This is not a committee where unanimous support is typical. But, the Music Modernization Act defied the odds from the beginning by bringing together songwriters, publishers, artists, record labels and the streaming services with which they have often been at odds on copyright issues in Washington D.C.
The next step is a vote in the full Senate. If approved in the upper chamber, the bill would head next to President Donald Trump's desk.
"A huge thank you goes to Senators Chuck Grassley, Dianne Feinstein, Orrin Hatch, Sheldon Whitehouse and many others," Herbison said in a prepared statement. "Songwriters desperately need the improvements in this bill that will ultimately lead to higher streaming royalty rates and a more efficient music licensing system.
“This is a monumental step in the process as we now move to vote by the full United States Senate."
Herbison cautioned that there is still work to be done. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of the bill's lead sponsors downplayed a fiscal note attached to the bill that predicted revenue for the streaming services would decrease.
Two conservative senators Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz expressed concerns about a new collective that would be creative under the bill to handle all digital mechanical licensing. The senators said they are reticent to create a government-run collective. Under the bill, the new organization would be run by a board comprised of publishers and songwriters.
"Streaming services have literally saved the music industry, delivering better experiences at a better value, and growing revenue for creators," said Chris Harrison, CEO of the Digital Music Association, which represents streaming services and other music tech companies. "We are glad to see Congress is looking to the streaming future, and moving away from the music mess of the past."
In addition to the licensing provisions, the Music Modernization Act also would require digital radio companies to pay artists and labels royalties when they play songs recorded prior to 1972. Some companies, like Pandora, have already begun doing so, but because of a loophole in the copyright there is no legal requirement to do so.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has expressed concerns about this component of the legislation. The third key component of the bill is the AMP Act, which would create a statutory right for producers and engineers to be paid digital royalties.
"We’re in the age of the Internet, and the laws governing what songwriters are paid are from the age of the player piano, but help is on the way for Tennessee songwriters – today, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Music Modernization Act, which means songwriters in Tennessee and across the country are one step closer to being paid fair market value for their work,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, a vocal champion of the bill.
Reach Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tnnaterau.