Music Modernization Act Passes Senate

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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MusicThe US Congress has unanimously passed the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act, named for the retiring Utah Senator.

Hatch won a gold and platinum album for his song “Unspoken,” which appears on the 2003 Jaci Velasquez album of the same name that sold more than a million copies.

The Act was earlier passed by the House of Representatives.

Peace Treaty

As NPR reported,

The bill is essentially a music business peace treaty, designed to fix some very longstanding issues within it. It’s the result of years of slow-moving compromise between tech companies like Spotify that rely on music (and wish to pay as little as possible for the privilege), entrenched music industry interests from major and independent labels to publishers and performance rights organizations, artists (who wish to get paid as much as possible from companies like Spotify) and the organizations that advocate for them.

Music rights have several components:  the rights of the songwriters, the rights of the record labels that released the music, and the (often minimal or non-existent) rights of the performers.

Mechanical License

Compositions are distinct from recordings and require what’s called a “mechanical” license.

As I discussed in this blog post, artists like the late Aretha Franklin are often paid nothing for broadcasts or downloads of their performances.

Under US copyright law, radio stations pay royalties only to the writers and publishers of songs — not to performers.

As NPR noted, Spotify launched in 2011 without an effective way to identify and pay songwriters for the songs that its users streamed. It’s been sued many times, and the Act accelerated the filing of a $1.6 billion lawsuit against it.

As NPR noted in an earlier story,

Just two days before New Year’s Eve, the music publishing company Wixen, which manages the compositions of a wide cross section of artists from Neil Young to Rage Against The Machine, filed a lawsuit against Spotify over its failure to properly license those works before making them available to stream.

As I noted before, although sound recordings were first given federal copyright protection in 1972, sound recordings made before February 15, 1972, were protected under state law rather than under the federal copyright statute.

The Mechanical Licensing Collective

The Hatch Music Modernization Act will establish a new quasi-governmental organization called the Mechanical Licensing Collective. This entity will create and operate a public database of information about songwriters’ work.

Companies like Spotify can then use this information to pay songwriters (or their heirs) properly.

The Act also sets the rates that songwriters will be paid — which aren’t much, but may increase as a result of the Act.

Some online music services opposed the Act.  As NPR noted,

a group of 150 artists, from Paul McCartney to Sia, issued a letter rebuking SiriusXM for attempting to derail the bill…

If an amended version of the Act is passed by the House, it will then go to President Trump for signature.

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