Music Modernization Act Passes in Senate With Unanimous Support

The United States Capitol Building - WASHINGTON, D.C - Getty-H 2017
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The bill, now renamed after Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, heads back to the House, where its changes will need approval.

The long road to copyright revision is nearing its end as the U.S. Senate passed the Music Modernization Act by unanimous consent Tuesday. The move mimics the House's unilateral support of the bill by a vote of 415-0 in April.

With the Senate's move, the legislation has been renamed the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act in honor of the Republican senior senator from Utah — a songwriter himself — who will retire at the end of his term this year.

Now the Senate version of the bill will go back to the House, where it needs approval due to all the changes made in order to get it passed in the Senate. If the House approves the new version, it will need to be signed by President Donald Trump before it can become law.

The bill, in three parts, gives something to different rights holders thanks to compromises from most of the industry, including music licensees. But while the legislation has been described as compromise legislation, it had to overcome an aggressive lobbying effort by SiriusXM that the company said was designed to improve the bill to be fair to its services. Rights holders responded, accusing the satellite radio service of trying to derail the legislation. As it is, about 150 artists said Monday that they were going to organize a boycott against SiriusXM majority stakeholder Liberty Media if the bill didn't pass.

Whether all is forgiven and the industry returns to normal or grudges are harbored going forward, the various architects of the legislation celebrated its passage in the Senate on Tuesday.

"Today is a momentous day for songwriters, artists, composers, producers, engineers and the entire industry that revolves around them," said National Music Publishers' Association president and CEO David Israelite in a statement. "The Senate vote marks a true step forward toward fairness for the people at the heart of music, who have long been undervalued due to outdated laws. This was a long and complex process, but ultimately the music industry has come out stronger and more united than ever."

The bill creates a blanket mechanical license and establishes a collective to administer it; reshapes how courts can determine rates while making sure future performance rates hearings among performance rights organizations BMI and ASCAP, and licensees rotate among U.S. Southern District Court of New York judges, instead of being assigned to the same two judges as it's done now; creates a royalty for labels, artists and musicians to be paid by digital services for master recordings created prior to Feb. 15, 1972, while also eliminating a 1998 carve-out for "pre-existing digital services"; and codifies a process for Sound Exchange to pay producers and engineers royalties for records they have worked on.

The industry had to wait through a nerve-wracking few days as the legislation went through the fast-track hotline process. Over a 24-hour period, all 100 senators were notified the bill would be put off for unanimous consent approval and wouldn't need a vote, so long as none of them objected. As it turns out, none did.

"The Senate's passage of the Music Modernization Act is the most exciting development I've seen in my career," said NMPA chairman of the board Irwin Robinson in a statement. "Songwriters have suffered long enough, and this bill will allow them to be paid fairly by the streaming companies that rely on their work. We got to this point because of the advocacy of hundreds of music creators who rallied behind the MMA and who will drive the future of the music industry. I look forward to seeing the MMA become law and watching the songwriters, composers, artists and producers who will greatly benefit."

"The bill is a great step forward toward a fairer music ecosystem that works better for music creators, services, and fans," said the Content Creators Coalition and MusicAnswers in a statement. "We also are gratified that our two organizations, in collaboration and independent of other groups, were able to make meaningful contributions to the final legislation, including comprehensive and publicly available audits of the MMA’s new Mechanical Licensing Collective and ensuring that the Collective uses best practices to find the owners of unclaimed royalties. We appreciate the receptivity of key legislators and their staffs to these fundamental notions of transparency and accountability." 

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