Leading Artist Groups Announce Opposition To Sen. Wyden’s So-Called “ACCESS to Sound Recordings Act”

Groups Detail Flaws Of Wyden Bill; Reiterate Support For CLASSICS Act As Part Of Music Modernization Act Package In Letter To Senate

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[Washington, D.C.] — Seven leading unions, membership organizations, and advocacy groups representing recording artists, performers, vocalists, musicians, producers, and songwriters today sent a letter to the U.S. Senate detailing the flaws in Sen. Ron Wyden’s so-called “ACCESS to Sound Recordings Act.” The groups, which include American Federation of Musicians, Content Creators Coalition, Future of Music Coalition, The Living Legends Foundation, the Recording Academy (GRAMMYs Organization), The Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and SAG-AFTRA detailed how Wyden’s bill would undermine the retirement security of elderly artists before reiterating their support for the CLASSICS Act.

The bipartisan CLASSICS Act corrects the injustice of some digital radio services refusing to pay legacy artists for use of their music recorded before February 15, 1972, due to a quirk in the law. The CLASSICS Act would close this loophole in federal law and ensure that the music creators who made those timeless recordings finally get their due. The bill is part of a broader series of music licensing reforms, known as the Music Modernization Act, which was unanimously passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in April and is expected to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee in the near future.

June 13, 2018

Dear Senators:

As unions, membership organizations, and advocacy groups representing recording artists, performers, vocalists, musicians, producers, and songwriters, we write to state our strong opposition to the newly-introduced “ACCESS to Sound Recordings Act” (S.2933) and to reiterate our enthusiastic support for the Music Modernization Act (S. 2823) (“MMA”). We strongly support the portion of the bill that would ensure compensation for airplay of pre-72 works known as the “CLASSICS Act” (S. 2393). We also affirmatively reject any proposals that would leave in place a below-market rate payment standard to artists for exploitation of their work.

The CLASSICS Act is vital, time sensitive legislation that is critical to thousands of artists who recorded music or spoken word performances before 1972. These artists are literally watching the clock run out on their ability to receive fair pay for their work while digital radio makes billions of dollars a year from airplay of those same recordings. The CLASSICS Act would ensure that artists who created and contributed to timeless songs finally get their due and would bring much needed certainty to one of the most contentious and confused areas of music licensing today. It is the product of a lengthy, considered process stretching back over several Congresses and represents a carefully balanced compromise that virtually all stakeholders have come together to support.

We are disappointed that the introduction of the “ACCESS Act” was done without consulting any artist group, organization, or union who would have made it clear that the bill’s eleventh-hour introduction is not a viable solution. The “ACCESS Act” would undercut the goals of the MMA by cutting compensation for the older artists that it is expressly designed to benefit. It would unfairly shorten the period in which pre-72 recordings produce royalties for the artists and copyright owners effectively shutting down a critical lifeline of payments to artists who need it most.

Proponents of the ACCESS Act claim, incorrectly, that the CLASSICS Act extends the term for pre-72 recordings and that their bill provides a fix. The CLASSICS does no such thing — Congress set the term for these copyrights in the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998; the CLASSICS Act doesn’t alter it in any way.

Indeed, it is the “ACCESS Act” that would alter existing state and federal copyright terms, eroding protection for older artists by 15–20 years in some cases. This would arbitrarily and unfairly result in older artists receiving less copyright protection than younger artists — reinstating exactly the kind of imbalance and differential treatment the CLASSICS Act and the broader MMA are trying to fix.

We also note that one entity, Music Choice, has very recently raised concerns about the performance right rate setting reforms in the MMA and has incorrectly asserted that these reforms are “last minute.”

For twenty years, the law has applied a fair market value “willing buyer/willing seller” standard when determining royalty rates for thousands of digital services streaming sound recordings under statutory licenses. However, three services (Music Choice, Sirius XM, and Muzak) have paid below market rates thanks to a special subsidy provision created back in the 1990s for certain “pre-existing” services, resulting in a deeply distorted market and unfair competitive advantage.

Congress has been considering options to end this subsidy rate and restore fair competition — and fair market pay for artists — for years. There is nothing new about this debate. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the issue on July 29, 2008, and it was aired at length during the music licensing hearings held by the House Judiciary Committee. The Copyright Office recommended the change in its 2015 report on music licensing reform. The “Fair Play Fair Pay Act,” first introduced in April 2015 and reintroduced in March 2017, included this change, and the music community issued a joint press release in January 2018, supporting this reform.

This is a matter of basic fairness that would create a level playing field for all digital market services and ensure fair pay for artists.

We urge you to pass the CLASSICS Act as part of the Music Modernization Act and reject proposals that would undermine the legislation’s core purpose.

Sincerely,

American Federation of Musicians

Content Creators Coalition

Future of Music Coalition

The Living Legends Foundation

Recording Academy (GRAMMYs Organization)

The Rhythm & Blues Foundation

SAG-AFTRA

Artist-run, non-profit advocating for musicians, performers, & songwriters in the digital landscape. (Formerly the Content Creators Coalition or “c3”)

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