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Songwriters Blast Oregon Senator With ‘Why Do You Hate Music?’ Billboards

Advocates of the Music Modernization Act, which aims to update and improve royalty payments to rights-holders and creatives in the digital era, have taken their message to the sky.

The “Music Army,” as proponents of the Music Modernization Act including SONA (Songwriters of North America) and “The Writer Is…” podcast host Ross Golan call their movement to update and improve royalty payments to songwriters, artists and creatives in the digital era, is waging a sky campaign in Oregon. On Monday, Aug. 27, billboards began popping up in Portland and Salem addressed to democratic Senator Ron Wyden and asking “Senator Wyden: Why do you hate music?”

At issue for the advocacy groups, who’ve helped shepherd the MMA through the House of Representatives and long overdue reforms of archaic, complicated and imbalanced procedures for songwriters and music rights holders. It next faces a full Senate vote, which is where Wyden factors.

The bill combines three separate pieces of legislation:

– The Music Modernization Act of 2018, S.2334, introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in January, which updates licensing and royalties as pertains to streaming.

– The CLASSICS Act (or Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, & Important Contributions to Society Act), introduced in February by Chris Coons (D-DE) and John Kennedy (R-LA) to ensure that songwriters and artists receive royalties on pre-1972 songs.

– The AMP Act (or Allocation for Music Producers Act), introduced in March by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley(R-LA) and ranking committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA.) with the support of and Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

Senator Wyden has introduced an alternative called the ACCESS Act, which MMA advocates argue will reduce the current term of Copyright and “undermine the goals of CLASSICS” and that these changes “will strip older artists and musicians of the full term of their copyright protection.”

Complicating understanding of the issue is that, with or without the CLASSICS portion of the MMA, the term of copyright for pre-1972 sound recordings ends in 2067. Wyden’s proposal “will effectively place massive amounts of pre-72 sound recordings into the public domain years, if not decades, earlier than current law provides.”

That means an iconic song like “Respect” by the late Aretha Franklin could fall out of copyright protection entirely during our lifetimes. The MMA supporters argue that such an action is effectively “an unconstitutional ‘taking’ of property.”

“I think this moment calls for some organized chaos and whole lot of shouting,” said Michelle Lewis, executive director of SONA, in a statement to Variety. “The songwriter and artist communities have been amazing about showing up for that.”

Funding for the billboard campaign was gathered through a gofundme page. Added Lewis: “There’s freedom in being DIY. No budgets to submit, no board to approve and no grown ups to tell you ‘no.’ Just put up some freaking billboards! We don’t have time for polite letters and statements. We have the political equivalent of five minutes left, so it’s now or never!”

In a statement to Variety, a Wyden rep said: “Senator Wyden supports the Music Modernization Act, but he continues to have concerns about the addition of the CLASSICS Act. Our office is still in conversations with Senator Coons about a reasonable solution that compensates artists for their pre-1972 recordings.” But within an hour of issuing this statement, a source indicated that Senator Wyden along with Senator Coons had been discussing a compromise in the late evening hours of Aug. 28 and that a resolution looked “promising.”

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