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Music Modernization Act Unanimously Passes House of Representatives

In what is being hailed as a historic day for music creators, theMusic Modernization Act passed the House Wednesday, paving the way for improved royalty payments to songwriters, artists and creatives in the digital era. The bill, HR 5477, passed unanimously with 415 votes. The bill is overwhelmingly supported by the music industry, and has bipartisan support in the house, where it was introduced by co-sponsors Robert Goodlatte (R-VA) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

Speaking from the House floor today Goodlatte said the bill “brings early 20th century music laws for the analog era into the 21st century digital era,” adding, “music is no longer written on piano rolls, and our laws shouldn’t be based on that technology either.” Goodlatte, a driving force and co-author of the original legislation resulting in this bill, introduced the MMA in the House Judiciary Committee where it received unanimous passage on April 11. In positioning it for the full vote, he couched it in terms of economic hardship, stating “the problems and failures in our nation’s music laws have imposed real financial costs upon artists and creators.”

Speaking in support of the bill, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), emphasized the bill’s broad support. “Who would have thought that a Congressman from rural Georgia would find agreement with a liberal democrat from Brooklyn?,” said Collins, referring to NY Rep. Hakeem Jeffries.

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) noted  that the bill “doesn’t address everything” – notably omitting performer payment for radio airplay – but stresses it makes significant improvements. Goodlatte summed up those improvements in four specific areas, saying it will:

  • Improve a dysfunctional mechanical licensing system “that seems to generate more paperwork and attorneys’ fees than royalties.”
  • Ensure royalty protection for pre-1972 performances
  • Provide a statutory right to recognition for adjunct creators, including producers, sound engineers, and mixers
  • lack of a unified rate standard for music royalties

The MMA combines four separate legislative initiatives into a single bill that will update how music rates are set and how songwriters and artists are paid.

Key provisions of the bill is for Congress to establish the equivalent of a SoundExchange for songwriters to track credits and distribute royalties when digital services use their work. The switch to a market-based rate standard for artists and writers, closing the pre-1972 loophole that denied digital compensation to legacy artists and the addition of copyright royalties for producers and engineers are other changes embraced by the industry, including the Recording Academy and the RIAA to ASCAP, BMI, the American Association of Independent Music and the American Federation of Musicians.

The MMA action now heads to the Senate, which will tackle its version of the package next month. At present, there are three individual Senate bills queued for a mid-May hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee that like the House, the Senate may combine (either into its own version or simply taking up the House version, which is the music industry’s hope. Whatever the means, the basic tenets of the bill are expected to meet little resistance in the Senate, moving in some form to a full vote and then to President’s desk.

At present, Sirius XM and background music service Music Choice represent the only notable opposition.

National Music Publishers Association President & CEO David Israelite said: “The House passage of the Music Modernization Act is truly historic for songwriters and the entire music ecosystem which they fuel. The MMA improves how songwriters are paid and how their work is valued, both of which are long overdue. The bill also helps digital streaming companies by giving them access to all the music their consumers want to enjoy.”

Israelite added, “I am immensely grateful to Congressmen Doug Collins and Hakeem Jeffries who have seen this process through from the beginning and have stood by songwriters through a complex and lengthy collaboration process, and to Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Nadler for getting this bill to the House floor. Today’s vote sends a strong message that streaming services and songwriters can be on the same side – pushing for a better future for all. We now look forward to the Senate advancing the MMA and it ultimately becoming law.”

Recording Industry Association Chairman & CEO  Cary Sherman said: “With this unanimous vote, we are one step closer to a once-in-a-generation reform of our music licensing laws. It’s a long time coming and we have much work to do, but the breadth and depth of unprecedented legislative support demonstrated over the last two weeks is illustrative. It is the result of a broken system that poorly serves creators and years of painstaking consensus-building by a many key members of Congress. This bill has advanced as far it has because its component parts reflect reforms of the entire music ecosystem. That is an essential ingredient.”

Recording Academy President & CEO Neil Portnow said: “Music creators compose the soundtrack to our lives. These creators deserve to be paid a fair wage for their work. The passage of the Music Modernization Act in the House of Representatives is a historic step forward for all music creators, ensuring that they are credited, paid, and shown the respect they deserve for the impact they have on our culture and daily life. We are honored that GRAMMYs on the Hill helped to pave the way for these long overdue updates.”

ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said: “Today’s passage of the Music Modernization Act by such a significant margin underscores the widespread consensus that our music licensing system needs immediate updating. After years of advocating for reform, we are thrilled that our country’s leaders are now paving the way for a brighter future for music creators who have struggled under outdated laws for far too long. We thank the House, especially our many congressional champions like Reps. Goodlatte, Nadler, Collins and Jeffries, for their hard work and recognition of music’s massive cultural and economic significance to our country. We urge the Senate to take up this industry-supported bill without delay.”

SoundExchange President & CEO Michael Huppe called this “an historic day for music creators,” and said  “This legislation stands to benefit artists, songwriters, labels, publishers, studio producers and others – many of whom are represented by the SoundExchange Companies. We are grateful that lawmakers in the House worked to update our nation’s copyright laws for the digital age, and we look forward to working with the Senate to get this legislation passed quickly. Music creators have waited long enough.”

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