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Paul Williams Remembers Senator Orrin Hatch as a Champion of Creators

Songwriter and ASCAP chairman of the board/president: "When it came to protecting copyright and making sure songwriters could make a living from their art, we knew we could count on Sen. Hatch."

Sometimes there is truth in old sayings like “politics makes strange bedfellows.” That was certainly the case with Senator Orrin G. Hatch, and perhaps many of the music creators and recording artists whose livelihoods he protected and whose work he recognized as important to our culture – even if it wasn’t to his personal taste.

Senator Hatch, who died on April 23 at the age of 88, had a certain way of greeting me. “You rascal, Paul,” he’d say with a devilish smile. “Are you behaving yourself?” And I would often reply, especially when I was in his office explaining the challenges we were facing as songwriters and asking for his support. “Yes, I’m behaving, Senator, and I’m grateful that you are in our corner standing with songwriters on this issue.”

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And he did stand with music creators on so many pieces of copyright legislation throughout his more than three decades of service on the Senate Judiciary Committee. When it came to protecting copyright and making sure songwriters could make a living from their art, we knew we could count on Sen. Hatch.

Sen. Hatch drew on his own experiences as a songwriter and an ASCAP member, and translated his passion for music into legislative action. His legislative record on these matters is well-known, but I can speak from experience on a few. He helped us defeat legislation that would have forced songwriters and composers to give up their rights to royalties when our music is used in television shows. He defended our right to earn royalties from the use of our music on digital platforms. And in 2015 he introduced the Songwriter Equity Act, which eventually became part of the Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act – and that passed both the Senate and House unanimously in 2018.

That bi-partisan support speaks volumes about the power of music to bring people together. Sen. Hatch was a shrewd legislator who knew how to get things done. After I met Sen. Hatch, I began to understand the long partnership and friendship he enjoyed with Senator Ted Kennedy, who was on the opposite side of the political spectrum. They both had that rare ability to look beneath the surface of a person to connect with them on a heart level, and that allowed them to collaborate on important legislation where they found common ground.

During the run-up to the Music Modernization Act, we had reached a bit of a stalemate on one issue and Senator Hatch asked me to meet with him. He explained that to get this bill passed we needed to get a few more people under the tent, and he facilitated those discussions and made sure we all left the room satisfied.

I grew up with a Democrat mother and a Republican father, so I am no stranger to political opposites finding common ground. Music helps us find common ground, too. Sen. Hatch wrote hundreds of songs: “The Answer’s Not in Washington” is one about hope and morality amid legislative dysfunction, and “Out of the Night” pays tribute to the civil rights movement. The album My God is Love has songs dedicated to his faith, which he wrote over just one weekend. He even wrote a Christmas album, Orrin Hatch’s Christmas Eve.

Sen. Hatch once told me I was his favorite Democrat. And while I’d like to believe that, I’m not sure it’s entirely true, because one of his most touching songs is a love song he wrote for Sen. Kennedy and his wife Vickie, “Souls Along the Way.”

Sen. Hatch, thanks for the music and for the lessons in finding common ground. Our country, and the world, needs them more than ever.

ASCAP President and Chairman of the Board Paul Williams is an Oscar-, Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning composer and lyricist who has written “The Rainbow Connection,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and many other hits. He recently collaborated with Daft Punk on songs for its album Random Access Memories.