Congress: Time to Modernize Music (Guest Column)

US Capitol

Three pieces of legislation that aim to update the ways that royalties are paid to songwriters and artists — the Music Modernization Act, the CLASSICS Act and the AMP Act — are going before Congress later this year. In this post, National Music Publishers’ Association president/CEO David Israelite and Recording Industry Association of America president Mitch Glazier argue for combining the three acts into a single piece of legislation.

The future of music depends on how music creators are valued. Unfortunately, the laws governing our industry are woefully behind the digital age — significantly hurting those behind the songs. However, today there is unprecedented consensus around real changes that will help all those who make, distribute and listen to music.

Our organizations, which advocate for music publishers and their songwriter partners and major record labels and their artist partners, strongly support three pieces of legislation. The Music Modernization Act (MMA), the CLASSICS Act and the AMP Act together would comprise the most significant improvement of music copyright law in a generation and change the lives of those who are most disadvantaged by the current outdated system.

Specifically, the MMA improves both how, and how much, songwriters are paid. Today, digital companies like Apple, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora and Google struggle to find the owners of the millions of songs they play, and songwriters have borne the brunt of that difficulty in lost and late-paid money.

Even worse, the royalties songwriters receive have been woefully less than they deserve. Streaming services have been sued multiple times by music creators who have not been paid properly, preventing them from fully investing in the potential of their platforms. The MMA helps solve these problems by providing digital services a way to play all music, giving songwriters better rates through market-based compensation, and ensuring money is no longer lost.

While the MMA will significantly improve what songwriters earn and how their music is licensed, there is also a need to help two segments of the industry who too are disadvantaged under current law: legacy artists and music producers.

The CLASSICS Act (Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society) would correct one of the most egregious injustices in the music economy. Legacy artists who recorded music before 1972 are not paid royalties when their music is played on digital radio because of a quirk in the law. Many legacy artists are no longer able to tour in order to earn a living, so this slight has an enormous effect on their livelihoods. The CLASSICS Act would treat legacy artists the same way their contemporaries are treated.  Not only is this fair, it is overdue.

In addition to honoring and paying legacy artists, this potential music package could finally make official the way producers and engineers are paid. The AMP Act (Allocation for Music Producers Act) adds producers and engineers, who play an indispensable role in the creation of music, to U.S. copyright law. The bill provides a consistent, permanent process for studio professionals to receive royalties for their contributions to the creation of music, formalizing an industry practice and providing producers the protection they deserve.

While there are a great many issues loudly being debated in Congress, it is extremely hard to hear the needs of music creators. But the reality is that without them, our lives would hold immeasurably less joy.

Thousands of performers, from featured artists to sidemen, backup singers and musicians, have joined the chorus appealing to Congress in support of these needed reforms. More than 26,000 songwriters have endorsed the MMA and more than 240 prominent legacy artists have urged Congress to support the CLASSICS Act.

Additionally, these three bills together represent historic consensus among the music organizations. On January 8, more than twenty of the largest music organizations in the country voiced their unified support of this historic package.

Crucially, the tech industry is also on board. The Digital Media Association and the Internet Association, which represent the some of our nation’s largest technology companies, also support this package — giving it unprecedented cross-industry backing.

The only way anything gets done is if all sides come together. No one gets everything they want — but everyone is much better off. We have remarkable agreement around this legislative package, including large bipartisan support, creators and digital companies, unions and free-market groups.

So today, with one unified voice, we call on Congress to bring these bills together in a single piece of legislation and cross the finish line by making them law. We hope that they hear the pleas of those so often less visible – the songwriters, the legacy artists, the engineers and the producers – who are behind the music we love and must not be left behind.

David Israelite is the President & CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA). Mitch Glazier is the President of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).