One Year After Music Modernization Act, Rep. Nadler Predicts the Music Industry's Next Battles

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Ben Ouriel
NMPA president/CEO David Israelite (left) and Congressman Jerrold Nadler at NYU Steinhardt's Ralph S. Peer lecture series in New York on Oct. 3, 2019.

"The different segments of the industry have to get their act together and speak with one voice," the congressman said during a lecture with the NMPA's David Israelite.

As current chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler is used to tackling partisan issues -- right now, he's leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

But on Thursday (Oct. 3), Nadler took a trip to New York City to discuss one sector where he said issues "don't tend to fall along party lines": Music copyright.

The longtime creators' advocate joined National Music Publishers' Association president and CEO David Israelite for NYU Steinhardt's inaugural Ralph S. Peer Lecture, named after the music visionary who founded peermusic in the 1920s.

Prioritizing unity is what helped Nadler shepherd the unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into law almost a year ago. The landmark legislation -- the first changes to copyright law in two decades -- updated copyright rules for the streaming age, helping songwriters, producers, engineers and other rightsholders get paid for their contributions and bringing pre-1972 recordings under federal copyright protection for the first time.

"If you want real legislation, the different segments of the industry have to get their act together and speak with one voice," he said, admitting that most members of Congress aren't well-versed in music industry particulars. "Once they did that, we were able to pass legislation unanimously."

Of course, the final version of the bill left out what would've been its most divisive issue: A performance royalty for AM/FM airplay. Many of the bill's champions see terrestrial radio as the next battlefield, and Nadler agrees. 

"I certainly hope we can win this fight," he said of the ongoing negotiations. "As terrestrial radio becomes relatively less important and streaming becomes more, the question is the extent to which broadcasters will see their interests as less opposed to performance rights. At some point, I do think we will get some [agreement], because the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and their people will see that their interests are less adversely affected than previously."

When Israelite asked about the "hypocrisy" whereby the NAB fights for a free market when they own the content (as in television broadcasters) but for the government to step in when they don't (as in terrestrial radio), Nadler retorted with light-humored sarcasm. "It’s of course unprecedented in human history that people take inconsistent positions," he said, to laughter from the crowd. "In a philosophy class, it’d be difficult to defend. But [in politics], it’s not really a question."

In June, the Department of Justice began reviewing the decades-old antitrust consent decrees for performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI. On this, Nadler warned that overhauling the consent decrees too quickly could create unintended chaos: "I think they ought to be phased out," he said, "but an abrupt change is probably not the best idea. The basic principle is, people should be paid to the extent possible in the free market."

Israelite's reply: "That's music to songwriters' ears." 

At other points in the lecture, Nadler briefly discussed his music preferences ("folk music and Jewish liturgical music, basically") and favorite way to listen (he has vinyl records, but his record player is broken, so he uses YouTube to listen to music instead). 

He also touched on the emerging market for artificial intelligence, wondering aloud how copyright law will address music made by machines.

"I can’t say what’s going to be the future of the industry, except to say one thing," he concluded. "Human beings crave music. There will always be a music industry, as long as our brains work the way they do."


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