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After Battle With Songwriters, SESAC Comes to the Music Modernization Act Table

The compromise paves the way for the legislation's passage.

Following tension over the Music Modernization Act, performance rights organization SESAC and songwriter groups have reached a compromise that will allow for the legislation’s passage.

On August 2, the performing rights organization in a joint press release with Nashville Songwriters Association International, the National Music Publishers Association, and Songwriters Of North America, stated: “At the encouragement of Senators closely involved in this legislation, all parties came together to agree on outstanding items related to the MMA including the reform of the Section 115 compulsory license and other important related matters. We share a collective responsibility to help ensure that the MMA benefits all stakeholders in the industry and look forward to the Senate’s consideration of the bill.”

Before SESAC’s July 17 proposal, it had been smooth sailing for the MMA, which in June was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee following its passage, also by unanimous vote, in the House of Representatives in May. The legislation aims to improve royalty payments to songwriters, artists and creatives in the digital era. Its next and final step before heading to President Trump for signature is a full Senate vote to consider the act.

At the heart of the issue for SESAC parent company Blackstone was the nearly 100-year-old Harry Fox Agency (HFA), the rights management and collection entity which was bought by SESAC in 2015 for a reported $20 million. The HFA has acted as a hub for administrating and distributing mechanical license fees on behalf of music publishers

The MMA in establishing its proposed Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC), to be overseen by a Board of publishers which includes four self-published songwriters, agreed that the MLC will only collect and administer mechanical royalty income from the DSPs and not public performance royalties which are currently only administered by PROs ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR in the United States.

Says Dina LaPolt, attorney advisor to SONA, in a statement to Variety: “I have been telling everyone for decades that it all starts with a song! See what happens when the creators mobilize with one voice? They made it happen.  Songwriters and music creators can change the world when they mobilize.”

The compromise paves the way to passage of sweeping reforms and aims to better earnings for untold numbers of working songwriters and rights holders.

Read statements from parties with interest in the MMA below.

NMPA President & CEO David Israelite: “We are thrilled that we have mutually agreed on a path forward. We are stronger when our music family speaks with one voice and this agreement will allow us to come together to work towards the passage of the MMA. Songwriters need and deserve this bill. We thank the Senators involved for their leadership and guidance.”

SESAC Chairman & CEO John Josephson: “SESAC has been fighting for songwriters since 1931 and continues to do so with its enthusiastic support of the MMA. At the encouragement of Senators closely involved in this legislation, all parties came together to agree on outstanding items related to the MMA including the reform of the Section 115 compulsory license and other important related matters. We share a collective responsibility to help ensure that the MMA benefits all stakeholders in the industry and look forward to the Senate’s consideration of the bill.”

Nashville Songwriters Association International: “Reaching consensus within the music industry, on what may be the most important songwriter legislation in history, is a win for American songwriters and the broader music community. We are pleased to have put our differences behind us and support this bill in unanimous harmony. The Nashville Songwriters Association International has been a friend and fan of SESAC’s for decades and that is how our relationship will immediately resume.”

Songwriters of North America Executive Directors Michelle Lewis and Kay Hanley: “We are pleased to have come together with our partners SESAC, the NMPA, SONA and NSAI to move forward as a unified music community to support the successful passage and implementation of the much-needed Music Modernization Act. SONA would personally like to thank our partners, the NSAI and songwriter Ross Golan for their efforts and support in mobilizing the songwriter and artist community nationwide.”

ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews: “After working so hard for so long to update our music licensing laws, we must keep working together to keep the Music Modernization Act moving forward. All parties have had to give and take in order to achieve this consensus legislation that has so far seen widespread, bipartisan support and would help update music licensing laws to improve the future for music creators. We hope the Senate will pass it without delay.”

Association of Independent Music Publishers: “The AIMP applauds the NMPA and SESAC for coming to the table to move past their issues and confirming their unconditional support of the MMA.  We hope that this clears the way for all Senators to embrace the MMA and move this forward.”

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