Senate Moves Forward on Music Modernization Act

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A bipartisan group of Senators introduced the sweeping bill, which contains comprehensive music licensing reforms.

The Music Modernization Act today was introduced in the Senate, co-sponsored by Senators from both parties. The bill mirrors the proposed legislation already entered into the House of Representatives in that it calls for a blanket mechanical license to be administered by a new yet-to-be-created agency, which is intended to benefit both music publishers and songwriters as well as digital services.

In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI; and co-sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bob Corker (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Doug Jones (D-AL). 

"The MMA is the best hope for songwriters to achieve fair royalties and payments in the digital age, National Music Publishers' Assn. president and CEO David Israelite said in a statement. "We are grateful to [the Senators] for their attention to the struggles of music creators and for introducing the MMA, which we hope continues to gain momentum in the Senate."

In addition to creating a blanket license, a new agency and starting a song database, the proposed legislation would also eliminate some standards used in rate setting and substitute them by trying to determine rates under a willing buyer/seller marketplace. It would also change the way performance rates are determined by rotating each rate case among Federal Judges in the New York Southern District, instead of the way it is now with Judge Denise Cote assigned to all rate court cases for ASCAP and Judge Louis Stanton handling all BMI rate court cases.

"The Music Modernization Act is an important step forward in protecting the rights of the American songwriter, and we thank [the Senators] for their support of this important legislation," BMI president and CEO Mike O'Neill said in a statement. "While we believe there is still more to do to protect the value of the performance right, we are encouraged by the inclusion of two important provisions that go a long way towards ensuring that songwriters and composers receive fair compensation for their creative work; the wheel assignment for rate court judges and the repeal of 114 (i) application to digital services. While we know this bill is not yet final, it represents an unprecedented cross-industry effort to introduce comprehensive music reform, and we look forward to working with all of the interested parties to further support this much needed legislation."

Likewise, ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews stated that the MMA addresses some of the most critical issues facing America’s songwriting community, including rate court reforms. “While there is more work to be done to ensure that songwriters earn fair compensation, this legislation, like the similar bill recently introduced in the House, represents important progress in an ongoing effort on industry-wide reforms that protect the rights of music creators,” she added.

Executives from Nashville Songwriters Assn. International and Songwriters of North America also endorsed the legislation.

While the National Assn. of Broadcasters doesn't seem to mind the main thrust of the bill -- the creation of a blanket mechanical license and an administration agency -- it sounds like there needs to be more negotiation and compromising to bring them on board so that their powerful lobbying efforts don't derail it.

"Compromise on music licensing has long proved elusive, and these lawmakers have carefully crafted legislation that benefits all of those parties," the NAB said in a statement "Unfortunately, the current bill text includes unrelated provisions that will almost certainly result in unjustifiable cost increases for local radio and TV broadcasters and many other music licensees, for whom the rest of the legislation is largely irrelevant. NAB has been diligently working with the bill sponsors and other stakeholders to resolve those concerns, and we sincerely appreciate the shared commitment to finding a workable solution."

On the other hand, the Digital Media Assn., which represents digital music services, fully endorsed the proposed legislation. “We support the Music Modernization Act because it creates a blanket license, which is critical to a modern licensing system and necessary for a rapidly growing industry,” DIMA CEO Chris Harrison said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Bill’s sponsors in both the House and Senate to create a music licensing system that benefits everyone. Streaming services have literally saved the music industry, delivering better experiences at a better value, and growing revenue for creators. We are glad to see Congress is looking to the streaming future and moving away from the music mess of the past.”