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Music Modernization Act Was Verse One, the Rest of the Song Is Yet to Be Written (Guest Post)

The Music Modernization Act, which was signed by President Trump earlier this month, provided a much-needed update to outdated copyright laws. While a great victory for creators and rights-holders, it should be just the first step, argues SoundExchange president/CEO Michael Huppe (pictured above). 

The signing of the Music Modernization Act earlier this month will be remembered as a moment when the industry came together to modernize music laws and bring artists a step closer to being paid fairly. But I hope it’s a lot more than that.

I hope it’s remembered as the catalyst for dramatic change. Specifically, how a collaborative industry can accomplish so much more than a combative one. The fight for MMA brought our community together – recording artists, songwriters, labels, publishers, producers and studio musicians – to demand action. And Congress listened. Because of our collective efforts, we righted some wrongs. Songwriters and publishers will experience a better licensing process, and higher royalties. Legacy artists will now be ensured of payment from digital radio, in some cases at the highest rates in history. And producers will be better able to collect digital royalties.

The MMA is a wake-up call to the industry that it has clout when it speaks with one voice. What we do with that unity will define the future of music. If we just consider MMA a “job well done” and be on our way, then 2018 will be a solitary, isolated victory. But if we keep the coalition together — or even expand it — we can accomplish remarkable things. I hope the MMA was just our first verse, with the rest of the song yet to be written. And there is plenty of material to enrich that tune.

VERSE TWO: Let’s start with terrestrial radio. Their failure to pay artists and labels for music remains one of the most egregious injustices in the music industry. Their free ride on the backs of artists is a remnant of a bygone business model and makes no sense in today’s streaming economy, where 75% of recorded music revenues come from streaming. The $15 billion listening platform that we call FM Radio should not get special treatment allowing them to stiff creators. Let’s tackle that.

THE BRIDGE: Next, the consent decrees. More than seven decades ago, the Justice Department imposed restrictions on royalty collection societies ASCAP and BMI that limits their ability to operate in today’s marketplace and impacts how songwriters and publishers get paid. Whatever the reasons for these rules back in the 1940’s, the modern industry is completely different, and the rules should reflect this reality. Let’s tackle that.

VERSE THREE: Third, the music industry must demand that Congress fix the so-called “Value Gap,” which allows some digital services to profit immensely off music — yet share virtually none of that profit with creators. The best example of this is YouTube, which pays creators only a small fraction of what other digital platforms pay, in part because of the “Hobson’s choice” caused by expansive safe-harbor rulings around the DMCA. The European Parliament has taken steps toward addressing this injustice; perhaps Congress (and the courts) could take notice. Let’s tackle that.

Are these lofty goals? Absolutely. But two things are certain. First, we definitely won’t accomplish them if we don’t try. Second, creators just learned how powerful we can be when we work together — like a chorus. If we achieve even one of these goals, it will transform the music industry.

Having seen the power of collaboration, let’s keep up the momentum. Let’s not see MMA as just a “job well done,” but instead as simply the beginning. If you are part of the music industry, or aspire to be someday, get involved!  Reach out to MusicFirst  or any number of other advocacy groups and lend your support. If you are a performer or songwriter, let your fans know that unfairness exists in the music industry. If you represent labels or publishers or producers, use your influence to help effect change that will positively impact their bottom line.

And if there is any doubt about the power of our chorus, consider this: On September 18, a large group of creators weighed in with Congress on the MMA. A day later, the U.S. Senate broke a logjam and passed the bill unanimously.

We should (briefly) pause to celebrate an important victory for the industry. Passage of the MMA into law was a great achievement. But after the celebration is over, let’s get the band back together and tackle these other injustices. Let’s make MMA only the beginning of a much richer song. And let’s keep fighting to deliver a fair days’ wage for everyone in the music industry, because the MMA was just our first verse.

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