What is the Music Modernization Act and Why You Should Watch its Progress

by Stephanie L. Carlin

On January 24, 2018, the Senate moved forward with the Music Modernization Act of 2017 (MMA), a bipartisan bill – meaning both Republican and Democratic senators have written the bill. The politicians sponsoring the bill are senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bob Corker (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Doug Jones (D-AL) and was originally introduced by senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The Music Modernization Act of 2017 is a bill that calls for music reform within music licensing. The bill simplifies the music licensing by creating one compulsory license that a soon-to-be-created agency would distribute. This agency would change the rates at which songwriters obtain royalties per stream by making streaming services more of a marketplace with a buyer/seller system. This license would allow for easier access to royalty fees for musicians. In addition, the bill is being proposed as an amendment to the Copyright Act of 1976, allowing the possibility for music copyright to follow similar guidelines. The bill has been criticized for the way in which it plans to handle new suits that have been filed passed January 1 with the “wheel system,” initially handling the lawsuit with a random judge within the confines of the Southern District of New York.

This bill is intended to assist songwriters and music publishers in an age of digital scramble. The Groove has covered the statistics of sites like Spotify, who are still going under lawsuits from various artists asking for royalties. These streaming services, while beneficial to artists in terms of coverage, have been known to not only underpay artists for their streamed music but have had glitches on their sites that make it harder to track down how many streams an artist obtains within an hour. With the license, however, tracking stream would go to a private agency and thus, artists don’t have to worry about not getting paid due to a technical glitch. This is all on the heels of what’s being called a “big win” for songwriters, as the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) has approved major graduated increases in mechanical rates for 2018-2022 totalling 43.8%. It is the biggest single increase in mechanical royalties in CRB history.

Even so, the Music Modernization Act is sponsored by the Internet Association, which supports companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Spotify. There are 23 music organizations also attached to the bill, including BMI,  ASCAP, Nashville Songwriters Assn. International, Songwriters of North America, RIAA, A2IM, NMPA, BMI, SoundExchange and many others. President of ASCAP, Elizabeth Matthews, spoke out in support of the bill, saying,

“For too long, songwriters have had to work within an outdated system that over-regulates and undervalues their music. ASCAP and our members have long advocated for a more flexible framework that can adapt to the realities of the modern music marketplace.”

However, despite much of the positive attention, Songwriters Guild of America (SGA) President, Rick Carnes, spoke against the MMA, writing that the bill is

“…one of the first times or the very first time in history that any Government has acted to sanction the creation of a music copyright licensing and royalty collective over which creators themselves would not share at least equally in governance. That is a concept that we cannot support.”

There is some argument as to how streaming services will handle copyright with streaming services, but that is a decision for another bill. This bill will be the first time the government will recognize streaming services in law and it will create legitimacy for artists whose sole intake is from online streaming services. This bill may finally help these digital music services be accountable for the millions of downloads that happen every day.

If you would like to read the bill, the U.S. Congress has released a copy online here.

What are your thoughts on the Music Modernization Act? Is it a win for musicians? Let us know is the comments!