By Ted Kalo, c3 Executive Director
When we last checked in, music licensing reform was going from a crawl to a walk. A lot has happened since then, and we are closer to historic reform than ever before, but ONE Senator — Ron Wyden of Oregon — is standing in the way.
Tweet at Senator Wyden and tell him to stop obstructing music licensing reform.
At the end of April, the House passed its version of the Music Modernization Act (or “MMA”), which reforms the process for collecting and distributing songwriter and publisher royalties, guarantees payment to pre-72 artists when their music is streamed on digital radio, and codifies “letter of direction” payments to producers. The vote was an earthshaking 415–0!!!
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill in May and approved the bill unanimously on June 28. Now, the bill awaits an opening in the Senate floor schedule which can take… a while.
The pre-72 reforms (formerly known as the “CLASSICS Act”) have broad support among music industry organizations and artist advocacy groups and even Pandora Radio supports the bill.
However, a “poison pill” alternative bill has emerged, authored by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. The Wyden bill would cut back the amount of time pre-72 music receives copyright protection by 15–20 years. This cut would take away artists right to be paid under both federal and state laws.
It’s a disgusting bait and switch to yank away retirement security from elderly artists just as they are about to get a small measure of fairness from Congress.
That’s why c3 has launched an ad campaign calling out Senator Wyden’s betrayal of his musician constituents and urging Congress to pass real reform, the CLASSICS Act, as part of the MMA.
Click here to join us by tweeting at Senator Wyden and telling him he needs to quit obstructing this important and time sensitive legislation. Elderly artists cannot afford to wait while DC politicians engage in delay tactics.
The pro-songwriter part of the bill is also worthy of support:
- It establishes once and for all that there is a mechanical right in digital streaming. Digital radio companies fought this idea for a long time.
- Because of antitrust issues decades ago, if a digital service and publishers can’t agree on publisher/songwriter royalties, a federal judge decides what the rate is. Under court rules, these cases can only be heard by a very small number of judges who have made some really bad decisions of late. The bill creates a broader pool and random selection of the judges who decide on these matters.
- The bill would let the courts consider the rates for digital royalties for performers and record labels in setting songwriter rates.
- The bill establishes a new collective to distribute mechanical royalties
Together, we worked with MusicAnswers to secure further improvements in the bill [Click here to read our press release]. The Senate version now includes a periodic public audit of the collective to ensure transparency, and a requirement that the collective use the best practices to find the owners of unclaimed royalties.
These are good steps forward, but c3 believes the bill can be improved even further. Equal representation for songwriters on the board of the collective and real competition in selecting and renewing the selection of the collective to make sure it is responsive and accountable to songwriters seem like common sense improvements. With MusicAnswers, we are talking to key lawmakers about these changes. Four Senate Judiciary Committee members have publicly stated their desire to see improvements in these areas prior to Senate passage.
Still, we are enthusiastically supportive of the MMA and excited that it is moving forward.
Even so, if it passes, there will be so much more to do: real reform of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbors that allow companies like Google/YouTube to turn a blind eye to unlicensed music while profiting from it, ending AM/FM radio’s exemption from paying royalties, and antitrust reforms to break up big tech monopolies that wall us off from our fans.
We are in this for the long haul, and will keep working to build a better, more sustainable music economy for all.