Today’s songwriters face an uphill battle. If we don’t fix how music creators are paid by digital streaming services, we may never hear the great songs of tomorrow. As people who have been in this industry for a long time, we’ve seen the songwriters affected first hand.
Fortunately, there’s hope in the form of the Music Modernization Act (MMA). The MMA is legislation that has brought everyone to the table like never before and now presents a promising future for songwriters and the digital companies who rely on their work. We just need Congress to pass it.
Streaming services like Spotify, Apple and Amazon offer fans an awesome thing — the ability to play whatever they want, whenever they want. But songwriters often aren’t seeing the benefits from their work being used to create and promote multi-billion-dollar technology companies. Often money generated from their songs being streamed doesn’t even make it back to them. The bipartisan MMA will fix this by increasing how much songwriters are paid and by creating a system to ensure songwriters receive what they are owed in full from digital music companies.
One of the biggest issues in paying songwriters today is a lack of information. Currently, digital music companies attempt to find the ownership information for each song and then pay those music publishers and songwriters. But, in reality, many times this doesn’t happen and this has led to millions in lost songwriter income. There have been many lawsuits filed and instead of working together like business partners, songwriters have felt under attack.
The MMA establishes a new central database — run by music publishers and songwriters — which will house all ownership information and, in return for proper payment, allow a service to use any song they’d like. Better yet, the digital services will pay for this entity in its entirety, so it won’t cost songwriters anything — but it will be overseen by creators and copyright owners. This streamlining of payments will make sure songwriters aren’t losing money and if any company continues to infringe or not pay properly, they can be sued by copyright owners just as they can be today.
Equally important to improving the efficiency of getting songwriters paid is getting them paid fair rates. Since 1909 songwriter rates have been dictated by law, not by what’s negotiated in the real world, or the free market. Unlike artists and authors who create things, songwriters’ rates are determined by a court, and that court doesn’t even look at all the evidence to decide what songwriters deserve. The MMA improves this by telling the judges to look at what songwriters would make if they were in a free market, which will raise what songwriters are paid.
The bill also improves performance royalties by allowing performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI to push for higher rates for their songwriters and publishers.
Currently these two organizations cannot introduce evidence of what performing artists make for comparable rights in their rate court trials, preventing them from making the best possible case for their creators. The MMA allows them to do this and it also gives them rotating judges — which is how other federal court cases work — so that they have fresh eyes examining their cases, instead of the same judges reviewing them indefinitely. Both of these major reforms could substantially raise songwriter payments.
Most importantly, the MMA has a real chance at becoming law because it represents compromise between digital music companies and music industry groups — all of which support a major bill for the first time ever.
Recently over 20 organizations that represent the music industry came together to endorse the MMA, which now awaits consideration by the House Judiciary Committee run by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who we have met with and who has songwriters in his district. He has held a lot of hearings on copyright reform and understands the need for change. The future of the MMA is in his hands.
This is not a partisan issue and folks on both sides of the aisle and both sides of Congress are on songwriters’ side. Music leaders like Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), as well as Reps. Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) have rallied support for the bill. But we need more.
Songwriters are the unsung heroes of the music industry; what improves their ability to create will improve the entire ecosystem. We need to make the chorus for the MMA so loud that songwriters can no longer be ignored.
Steven Tyler is an American singer-songwriter and the frontman for the band Aerosmith. David Israelite is the President & CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association — the trade association representing U.S. music publishers and songwriters.