On Tuesday (April 10), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and six other members of the House of Representatives introduced the Music Modernization Act, the most important music copyright bill in a generation. Made up of three previously introduced bills and a provision from a fourth, it will create an organization to collect and distribute mechanical royalties, require digital services to pay for their use of sound recordings made before 1972, change the way the Copyright Royalty Board sets royalties for some services and codify the way SoundExchange pays producers and engineers directly.
The bill, which is scheduled for mark up on Wednesday, is expected to pass the House of Representatives fairly easily, perhaps within the month, although the Senate could prove tougher. The bill has broad support within the music business, after no small amount of compromise.
The other representatives who introduced the bill were Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.).
“The Music Modernization Act reflects bipartisan and industry consensus that the music licensing system is broken and that Congress is in a unique position, with this bill, to take major steps to fix the policy undergirding that system,” Rep. Collins told Billboard through a spokesperson. “The package that the Judiciary Committee will vote on this Wednesday would establish a Music Licensing Collective to ensure that songwriters are paid appropriately for their work and that digital providers can streamline their operations. It promotes platform parity by applying a fair market rate standard across the board for songwriters and performers and allows rate courts overseeing consent decrees on performing rights organizations to consider additional evidence in setting rates for performance royalties.”
The Music Modernization Act combines three bills: One, also, confusingly, called the Music Modernization Act, creates an organization to collect and distribute mechanical royalties and offers streaming services a safe harbor from lawsuits for statutory damages for copyright infringement filed after January. The others are CLASSICS and AMP. It also adds a provision from the Fair Play Fair Pay Act that would change the way the Copyright Royalty Board determines the rate some digital companies pay for sound recordings.
The various sectors of the music business rarely agree on much and labels and publishers have lobbied against one another in the past. Several years ago, the industry changed its lobbying strategy, trying to build support for legislation that would have support across the business. The idea is that a larger, consensus bill would enjoy more support but not more opposition. Technology companies also support the Music Modernization Act, since it would offer them protection from high-damages lawsuits.
“It’s worth pausing and reflecting on this moment when the entire music industry came together with the tech community to get music licensing reform enacted,” RIAA CEO Cary Sherman told Billboard. Sherman, who helped lobby for the legislation that gave labels and performers the right to be paid for use of recordings online, has made it priority to extend that right to recordings made before 1972.
In a statement, ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews added, “Today’s reintroduction of the Music Modernization Act signals we are one step closer to reforming our outdated music licensing system and providing songwriters a better future. We thank Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Nadler and Reps. Collins and Jeffries for their leadership and keeping America’s songwriters a priority.”
The Association of Independent Music Publishers (AIMP) also applauded the bill. “For too long, songwriters and publishers have been forced to deal with an outdated music licensing system that doesn’t work in today’s online world,” the association’s leaders said in a joint statement. “Now for the first time, the music and technology industry as well as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come together to address these issues and give rights-holders more control over the licensing and collection of their works.”
Parts of the Music Modernization Act are opposed by SiriusXM Satellite Radio, some songwriters and groups that are generally opposed to strong copyright protections for creators. It also faces a deadline of sorts, since Goodlatte plans to retire in the fall, there’s a contentious election and an August recess before then. (It could be re-introduced before then, but it would need a strong champion, like Goodlatte.) Music business lobbyists are hoping that a smooth path in the House of Representatives will create momentum that will help it pass the Senate, which has introduced versions of the three bills the Music Modernization Act is built from but not yet legislation that combines them.
“We are thrilled to celebrate the introduction of the Music Modernization Act,” Neil Portnow, President and CEO of the Recording Academy told Billboard through a spokesperson. “This historical bill has been a goal of the Recording Academy for several years as it unites the music community under one piece of legislation and provides meaningful updates to copyright law to help all music creators. This collaboration is the kind of work that changes the game for the music industry. Congress is recognizing the impact and cultural significance of work before 1972, while paving the way for the next generation of music creators.”