Music Modernization Act Passes in Senate With Unanimous Support

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 The U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The bill, now renamed after Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, now heads back to the House, where its changes will need approval.

The long road to copyright revision is nearing its end as the U.S. Senate passed the Music Modernization Act by unanimous consent Tuesday (Sept. 18). The move mimics the House's unilateral support, previously passing the bill by a vote of 415-0 back in April.

With the Senate's move, the legislation has been renamed the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act in honor of the Republican senior senator from Utah -- a songwriter himself -- who will retire at the end of his term this year. 

Now the Senate version of the bill will go back to the House where it needs approval due to all the changes made to the bill in order to get it passed in the Senate. If the House approves the new version of the bill, it will need to be signed by President Donald Trump before it can become law. 

The bill, in three parts, gives something to different rights holders, thanks to compromises from most of the industry including music licensees. But while the legislation has been described as compromise legislation, it had to overcome an aggressive lobbying effort by SiriusXM that the company said was designed to improve the bill to be fair to their services. Rights holders responded, accusing the satellite radio service of trying to derail the entire legislation. As it is, on Monday about 150 artists said they were going to organize a boycott against SiriusXM majority stakeholder, Liberty Media, if the bill didn't pass.

Whether all is forgiven and the industry returns to normal or grudges are harbored going forward, on Tuesday the various architects of the legislation are celebrating its passage in the Senate.

"Today is a momentous day for songwriters, artists, composers, producers, engineers and the entire industry that revolves around them," said National Music Publishers' Association President and CEO David Israelite in a statement. "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marks a true step forward towards fairness for the people at the heart of music who have long been undervalued due to outdated laws.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."

"Songwriters of North America (SONA) would like to thank Senators Hatch, Alexander, Whitehouse, Durbin and all the other Senate co-sponsors for passing Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act in the U.S. Senate today," said SONA executive directors Michelle Lewis and Kay Hanley in a statement. "We look forward to it finally becoming law and will continue to [work] with all our fellow stakeholders to ensure its effective implementation." 

With the Music Modernization Act's passing in the Senate, the industry had to wait through a nerve-wracking few days, as the legislation went through the fast-track hotline process. Over a 24-hour period, all 100 Senators were notified the bill would be put off for unanimous consent approval and wouldn't need a vote, so long as none of them objected. As of Tuesday, 82 senators had signed on as co-sponsors, but it was unclear if all of the 18 remaining senators were onboard. As it turns out, they were.

“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,” said RIAA President Mitch Glazier in a statement. “For the modern U.S. Senate to unanimously pass a 185-page bill is a herculean feat, only achievable because of the grit, determination and mobilization 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 bill creates a blanket mechanical license and establishes a collective to administer it; reshapes how courts can determine rates, while making sure future performance rates hearings between performance rights organizations BMI and ASCAP and licensees rotate among all U.S. Southern District Court of New York Judges, instead of being assigned to the same two judges, Judge Denise Cote for ASCAP and Judge Louis Stanton for BMI, as its done now; creates a royalty for labels, artists and musicians to be paid by digital services for master recordings created prior to Feb. 15, 1972, while also eliminating a Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 carve out for "pre-existing digital services" like Sirius XM and Music Choice that allows for certain additional considerations not given to any other digital service when rates are set; and codifies a process for Sound Exchange to pay producers and engineers royalties for records on which they have worked.

Over on the music publishing side of the business, there was much happiness too. For example, ASCAP noted that the legislation reforms an "outdated music licensing system and give music creators an opportunity to obtain compensation that more accurately reflects the value of music in a free market."

"Today's unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act in the Senate represents a Herculean industry-wide effort to promote and celebrate songwriters and ensure their right to a sustainable livelihood," ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said in a statement. 

Added ASCAP Chairman of the Board and President Paul Williams, "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."

"The Senate's passage of the Music Modernization Act is the most exciting development I've seen in my career," said NMPA chairman of the board Irwin Robinson in a statement. "Songwriters have suffered long enough and this bill will allow them to be paid fairly by the streaming companies that rely on their work. We got to this point because of the advocacy of hundreds of music creators who rallied behind the MMA and who will drive the future of the music industry. I look forward to seeing the MMA become law and watching the songwriters, composers, artists and producers who will greatly benefit."

Across the industry praise for the legislation's passing poured out. 

"The passage of the Music Modernization Act by the Senate is a historic moment for the tens of thousands of music creators across the nation," said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy, in a statement. "Since first proposing the music industry unite around a common bill in 2014, our members have lobbied in Washington and all 50 states to achieve this vision. When creators raise their voices for fairness, they make great progress."

"The future of the music industry got brighter today," said SoundExchange President and CEO Michael Huppe in a statement. "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.

"The Music Modernization Act proves what can happen when constructive industry leaders work together towards a greater good. The SoundExchange community joined a historic coalition of artists, labels, songwriters, music publishers, streaming services, performance rights organizations, producers, engineers and unions. The outcome of this collaboration is a law that sets a new framework to guide the future of the music industry. There are still issues regarding creator fairness that we need to address, but today we celebrate a new era of cooperation and progress across the industry."

"The Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act 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, it is also important to note the impact it will have on legacy artists," said musicFIRST Executive Director Chris Israel in a statement. "Through the CLASSICS provision of this bill legacy artists will finally receive the fair compensation they so rightly deserve. Today is a historic day for music creators of all generations and these much-needed reforms will properly value the music that we all love and enjoy well into the future."

“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," said DiMA CEO Chris Harrison in a statement. "Digital streaming and innovation have saved the music industry, delivering consumers better experiences and better value, and growing revenue for creators. With Senate passage of the MMA, we look forward to working with Members of the House in the coming days to send a strong bill to the President’s desk for his signature."

"The passing of the Music Modernization Act by the Senate is a huge turning point," said Recording Academy National Advocacy Committee Co-Chair Harvey Mason Jr in a statement. "This vote says loudly and clearly that music and those that create it are valued by our government and its citizens. We are all so thankful for this step to ensure music makers are compensated fairly." 

"This is a historic day for music creators," added Recording Academy National Advocacy Committee Co-Chair Mindi Abair in a statement. "We've watched for years as technology has exponentially changed the way our music is consumed. Our laws have not kept up, and today is a huge milestone toward creating a fair living wage and updating the system of how music makers in the 21st century are paid."

"The bill is a great step forward towards a fairer music ecosystem that works better for music creators, services, and fans," said the Content Creators Coalition (c3) and MusicAnswers in a statement. "We also are gratified that our two organizations, 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."


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