U.S. Senate unanimously passes three-pronged bill that will update music copyright for digital age
The U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Music Modernization Act Tuesday evening, despite weeks — or, by some measures, years — of internal music industry turmoil that made the bill’s future seem highly uncertain.
Aimed at updating music copyright laws for the digital era, the MMA in the form it’s being passed will accomplish three key things: Making sure songwriters and artists receive royalties on songs recorded before 1972; allocating royalties for music producers; and updating licensing and royalty rules for streaming services to pay rights-holders in a more streamlined way. In short, music-makers will get more money.
Music rights groups and executives in the industry are largely cheering the news. The Recording Academy’s CEO Neil Portnow praised the passage as “a historic moment” while National Music Publishers Association president David Israelite called it a “true step forward for fairness,” and several other groups such as the RIAA, ASCAP, BMI, and SoundExchange have all issued statements of approval.
But the MMA has not been viewed with such glowing regard across the entire industry. Earlier this year, performing rights organization SESAC made a fuss about an aspect of the bill and started a fight among songwriters, artists and various music rights groups before eventually backing down. Another major industry player, satellite radio giant SiriusXM, has voiced its dissent from the start over a provision that requires the company to pay a new set of royalties on pre-1972 recordings. SiriusXM has argued the provision is unfair, given that terrestrial radio companies do not have that rule imposed on them. On Monday, more than 150 songwriters and artists, including Paul McCartney and John Legend, signed a letter condemning SiriusXM’s disapproval and accusing it of selfishly holding up a bill from which the rest of the industry would benefit. SiriusXM said in a statement Tuesday that it came to an agreement with other industry players to pay half of the performance royalties for pre-1972 recordings, allowing the bill to move forward for unanimous vote.
“With this bill, we are one step closer to historic reform for our badly outdated music laws,” Orrin Hatch, the U.S. senator most responsible for pushing the complicated bill through Congress, said in a statement. That the MMA is a boon to creators in the music industry is true. However, the long and internally contentious path to make just three modest changes to copyright rules highlights one reason why more hasn’t been done.