Music Modernization Act Passed: Industry, Politicians Welcome 'The Most Important Piece of Legislation in a Generation'

Getty Images
The US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

In the end, getting together the Music Modernization Act might have been harder than writing a hit song. But after years of trying to get copyright legislation passed on Tuesday (Sept. 18), it finally happened, with now both the Senate and the House unanimously passing the legislation. Although, the legislation is still not a done deal until the Senate’s version is approved by the House of Representatives and then signed into law by President Donald Trump. If and when that happens, record labels, publishers, songwriters and artist hope that the legislation proves as lucrative as a hit song.

“This is the most important piece of legislation in a generation,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said on the Senate floor after the bill was approved. “It makes sure songwriters get paid and get paid fairly.”

"The Internet changed the music industry just like it has changed other industries... but copyright law didn’t keep up,” he added. In fact, “Copyright laws were way out of date and hadn’t been modified since the days of the piano roll.”

While the music industry finally got the legislation over the Senate goal line, it wasn’t easy. In the final hours when it looked like the legislation might not pass through hotlining -- the only way it could pass in this soon-to-close Congressional term -- at least two senators were objecting to unanimous approval, some source tell Billboard. Other sources say its unsure that there were or would be objections but nevertheless the Senate leadership was urging the industry to compromise with SiriusXM.

“I would not want anyone to think that even though it had 82 co-sponsors and was passed by [unanimous approval], that this was easy,” Alexander said at about 6:30 p.m. EST, while still addressing the Senate. “It was a complicated exercise and its [passages] was still in doubt until about hour and half ago...This is the product of long and hard negotiations and compromises. It is really complex legislation.” 

The legislation crafted from the get-go needed one last compromise from the last industry holdout on the bill, SiriusXM, who had apparently found at least two senators who were sympathetic to their cause. After days of high-profile finger pointing between SiriusXM and the bill's proponents -- including incredibly verbal songwriting groups like Songwriters of North America (SONA) and the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) -- SiriusXM got almost everything it wanted Tuesday, except for the restoration of the 801(b) standard which gave additional considerations not afforded to other digital services when rates are being set.

With Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) retiring at the end of his term this year, the bill was re-christened the Sen. Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act by the Senate. “With this bill, we are one step closer to historic reform for our badly outdated music laws,” said Hatch in a statement. “The Music Modernization Act provides a solution, and it does so in a way that brings together competing sides of the music industry and both sides of the political spectrum.”

Since so many changes were made in further compromises, the version of the bill passed by the Senate now needs to go back to the House for passage, before it can be passed onto President Trump to sign into law. In fact, Sen. Alexander acknowledged that the Senate had been in close contact with their counterparts in the House as they were changing the law; and added he hoped the House will vote on the Senate’s version of the bill so it can go the president.

In fact, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ill.), one of the authors of the MMA on the House side of Congress issued a statement applauding the Senate’s passage of the bill. “The Senate did great work today,” he said. “Senators Hatch and Alexander have been stalwarts in our work to give music creators, music providers, and music lovers a solid path into the twenty-first century. With unanimous passage in the House earlier this year, I’m hopeful that our chamber will send the Music Modernization Act successfully out of Congress before the next recess.”

The music publishing sector also applauded the bill’s passage in the Senate. “The unanimous backing of the MMA by the U.S. Senate shows what can be achieved when a diverse group of parties puts aside its differences and works together for the music industry’s greater good,” Sony/ATV chairman/CEO Martin Bandier said in a statement. “This is a significant victory for all rights holders and we are confident that once the bill goes back to the House it will pass and become law shortly. It will go a long way to ensuring that songwriters and music publishers will be fairly compensated for their contribution to the streaming revolution, which has transformed music into a growth industry once again.”

Likewise, SESAC chairman/CEO John Josephson applauded the senators who have worked so diligently to get the bill passed. “It's truly a significant day, and speaking on behalf of all SESAC affiliates, we're thrilled the Music Modernization Act has passed the Senate unanimously,” said Josephson in a statement. “We urge the House to adopt the Senate bill for the President to sign, so the MMA becomes reality. We're excited about the future of the music industry and modernization that allows all music creators to finally be paid more fairly for their hard work and dedication."

Finally, the Assn. of Independent Music Publishers weighed in with a joint statement from its leadership. “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,” according to the statement from AIMP President Michael Eames, AIMP New York Executive Director Alisa Coleman and AIMP Nashville Executive Director John Ozier. “Now, independent publishers and songwriters will enjoy a more modern and realistic rate standard, a central public database to ease royalty payments from digital services, the end of evidence limitations placed on rights-holders arguing for more accurate royalty rates, the ability for PROs to be heard by more than just the same two judges, and a clear and final determination that digital services must pay for the use of pre-1972 recordings.”

Chiming in with more support from the independent sector, American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) CEO Richard James Burgess also issued a statement applauding the bill's passing. “The passing of the MMA bill is yet another example of what can be achieved when creators and their representatives stand together for fairer remuneration," he said. "A2IM is grateful to all the people involved in finally making this a part of our music industry reality. All creators should be compensated fairly and A2IM is a strong advocate to ensure that happens not only for independent artists and labels, but for all music creators and the businesses that support them. We look forward to the bill becoming a law, and giving all music creators what they have deserved for so long."

As well, songwriter groups SONA and NSAI have been essential in rallying their members to contact their representatives to support the bill and take to social media to put pressure on any company or organization they felt were hampering its passage. Celebrating the MMA's move through the Senate, SONA Executive Directors Michelle Lewis and Kay Hanley issued a statement saying they were "proud to have worked along side of our entire music industry community on this historical legislation. We look forward to it finally becoming law and will continue to working with all our fellow stakeholders to ensure its effective implementation."

In the end, the success of the bill in Congress “is the result of most parts of the music industry -- songwriters, publishers, digital music companies and broadcasters -- working together on what they agree on, instead of fighting over what they disagree about,” said Alexander, summing up the day in a statement similar to one he made on the Senate floor. "It has taken several years to do this but I believe the results will be well worth the effort.”

Earlier, the senator said the bill will rejuvenize songwriters and help them whether they are hit-makers or ones who do it part time while driving a cab get “properly treated from a remunerative standpoint.”