Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on Jan. 29, 2018. It has been updated with new information.
April 11 Update: The Chairman of House Judiciary, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has just forwarded two new copyright bills for markup, an important milestone towards their consideration by the whole House.
The new Music Modernization Act (MMA) primarily proposes to set up a Collective Management Organization (CMO) for managing streaming royalties for musical recordings ; i.e. the Spotify piece.
The second section (AMP) seeks to increase the royalty payments made to record producers and audio engineers. The third section (CLASSICS) would require royalties to be paid for streaming of pre-72 musical recordings.
Streaming music services like Spotify and Apple Music provide unlimited online access to music for their customers, though not downloadable copies of albums or individual tracks. This popular innovation has, over the last decade, outstripped the mechanisms of law and regulation that would see creators and performers paid for these new uses of their works. But that might be about to change.
Rights in music can get sticky
If enacted, a bill recently introduced in Congress would require that a new blanket license for streaming be created and managed by a new, non-profit collecting society dedicated to this one purpose.
As it turns out, mechanical, sync, composition and other rights in music are complicated, and performing rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI (which license broadcasters and many other users of music on behalf of the composers and music publishers) have not been able, for various reasons, to quickly adapt to the new music consumer’s environment – one that now includes a lucrative streaming business.
Many trade association and membership groups involved in the music business – including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) – have expressed their support for these bills (which will almost certainly increase royalties paid by users to rightsholders).
After expressing some initial concerns, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), ASCAP and BMI have also offered support for the legislation.
A rare moment of momentum on copyright law
The Music Modernization Act (H.R. 4706) was introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) and a bipartisan group of other Representatives in late December, and a Senate version of the bill (S.2334) has now been introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and a bipartisan group of Senators. These two bills share a common goal, which is to address payment issues for royalties due from streaming music, the revenues for which have grown to tens of billions of dollars over recent years but relatively little of which revenues have made their way to rightsholders.
It’s been a while since any copyright legislation has passed out of Committee, through the two Houses of Congress and to the President’s desk, but if a bipartisan spirit holds, we may see that happen before this session is out.
Let’s hope these concerns can be quickly worked out. It would be great to see the law catching up – a little – to technology.