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US Senate passes Music Modernization Act

By | Published on Wednesday 19 September 2018

US Congress

The US Senate has passed the Music Modernization Act after a last minute deal was reached that ensured the copyright reforms had the backing of satellite radio firm SiriusXM. The proposals were hotlined by the upper house of Congress, which means they went through after no senators voiced opposition to the current draft.

The MMA brings together a number of different copyright reforms. This includes fixing issues around the way mechanical royalties are paid in the US and confirming that pre-1972 recordings are due royalties from online and satellite radio services. It also changes the way America’s Copyright Royalty Board and rate courts assess what royalty rates are fair when ruling on compulsory licences or licences issued by collecting societies ASCAP and BMI.

As a satellite radio service, SiriusXM is affected by the second of those measures, although it has already been paying royalties to artists and labels when it plays pre-1972 tracks as a result of past legal action by the artist and label community (the royalty obligation being ambiguous under existing laws). The media firm’s late-in-the-day objections to the MMA, therefore, were more related to the third set of measures, reforming the way the CRB and rate courts will work.

Backers of the MMA were concerned that the last minute intervention by SiriusXM could scupper the whole package of copyright reforms, which the industry really needed to get voted through before the current Congressional session finishes at the end of the year. The option to ‘hotline’ the proposals was attractive, but it was thought that a couple of senators might object to the legislation while Sirius XM was still lobbying against it.

However, an agreement was reached in time. The main compromise was that the existing sound recording royalty rate for satellite radio would stay in place until 2027, five years longer than originally intended. With that commitment assured, the CEO of SiriusXM, Jim Meyer, told reporters: “SiriusXM is a platform that respects and actively supports artists and all music creators, and we are delighted to have reached this agreement to help pass this bill”.

The satellite broadcaster and its parent company Liberty Media, which also has significant stakes in Pandora and Live Nation, will be hoping that, with a compromise reached and the MMA passed by Senate, it can now put behind it the last few weeks of bad press. Both artists and music industry leaders had been pretty scathing about SiriusXM’s lobbying efforts.

Still, the MMA is not quite passed yet. The amendments made in Senate will have to go back to the House Of Representatives for approval, and then The Donald will have to put his signature at the bottom of the new laws. Assuming that all happens, the industry will then have to get on with implementing the new system for processing the mechanical royalties paid to songwriters and publishers by the streaming services.

For now though, everyone you could even begin to consider existing in the American music industry has issued a statement welcoming Senate’s approval of what has been renamed the Orrin G Hatch Music Modernization Act, because it’s not a proper act if it hasn’t been rebranded to celebrate one of its backers. Here are a few of them for you all to enjoy. I wonder if anyone is THRILLED.

David Israelite, CEO of the National Music Publishers Association: “Today is a momentous day for songwriters, artists, composers, producers, engineers and the entire industry that revolves around them. The Senate vote marks a true step forward towards fairness for the people at the heart of music who have long been undervalued due to outdated laws. This was a long and complex process but ultimately the music industry has come out stronger and more united than ever. Now we anxiously await the House’s final approval of the MMA and seeing it signed into law”.

Mitch Glazier, President of the Recording Industry Association Of America: “As legendary band the Grateful Dead once said in an iconic pre-1972 song, ‘what a long strange trip it’s been’. It’s been an epic odyssey, and we’re THRILLED to almost be at our destination. For the modern US Senate to unanimously pass a 185-page bill is a herculean feat, only achievable because of the grit, determination and mobilisation of thousands of music creators across the nation. The result is a bill that moves us toward a modern music licensing landscape better founded on fair market rates and fair pay for all. At long last, a brighter tomorrow for both past and future generations of music creators is nearly upon us”.

The bosses of the Association of Independent Music Publishers: “The AIMP applauds today’s unanimous passage of the appropriately named Orrin G Hatch Music Modernization Act in the US Senate, clearing the path for its much-needed reforms to become law once ratified in the House and signed by the President. With support from both sides of the political aisle, along with unprecedented cooperation between the music and technology industry, the MMA will be a massive step forward for the independent publishing community and the music industry in general, which has been hamstrung by antiquated copyright laws for far too long”.

Chris Harrison, CEO of the Digital Media Association: “This milestone for the MMA demonstrates that with bipartisan leadership and a united music industry looking to the future, consumers, creators and copyright owners can all benefit. The MMA is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that will streamline royalty payments and bring some much-needed transparency to the system”.

The bosses of campaign groups the Content Creators Coalition and MusicAnswers: “[The MMA] is a great step forward towards a fairer music ecosystem that works better for music creators, services, and fans. Our organisations have been pleased to join in the efforts of the music creator community in support of this bill. We also are gratified that our two organisations, in collaboration and independent of other groups, were able to make meaningful contributions to the final legislation, including comprehensive and publicly available audits of the MMA’s new mechanical licensing collective and ensuring that the collective uses best practices to find the owners of unclaimed royalties. We appreciate the receptivity of key legislators and their staffs to these fundamental notions of transparency and accountability”.

Chris Israel, Executive Director of campaigning group musicFIRST: “After passing unanimously in the House Of Representatives earlier this year, the musicFIRST Coalition is THRILLED to see the Senate follow suit with unanimous passage of the Orrin G Hatch Music Modernization Act. [The MMA] will bring music licensing laws into the 21st Century and cement the framework for a just relationship between music creators and the technology companies that benefit from their work”.

Paul Williams, President of collecting society ASCAP: “American songwriters work tirelessly behind the scenes to create the music that fans all over the world enjoy. Today, we made history by joining together and working for Senate passage of the Music Modernization Act, bringing us one step closer to a music licensing framework that reflects how people listen to music today. We urge the House of Representatives to swiftly pass the Senate bill, so the President can sign it into law and music creators can begin to see the benefits of this critical reform”.

Michael Huppe, CEO of collecting society SoundExchange: “The future of the music industry got brighter today. Creators of music moved one step closer to getting paid more fairly. And industry forces that fought to maintain an unfair and harmful status quo were rebuffed. Now, SoundExchange’s 170,000-member community has just one word for the House Of Representatives: Encore!”



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