The Legislation That’s Music to Music’s Ears

When you think about the types of businesses subject to the most government regulation, you might think about nuclear power, or aviation, or health care. Chances are, you wouldn’t imagine that one sector subject to massive government regulation is…song writing.

If you want to try to make a living as a songwriter, the government has limited, qualified, and regulated the exercise of your copyright rights concerning the reproduction, distribution, and public performance of your work. And some of those rules date back to another time, before the Internet, CDs, vinyl records – all the way back to World War II. But that’s still new compared to the “statutory license” written for player pianos and signed into law by President Taft that is still in force today.

The good news is that this week, Congress is making progress on a set of amendments to the Copyright Act that will modernize these provisions. Collectively known as the Music Modernization Act, H.R. 5447 (“MMA”), this legislation will move music licensing provisions of copyright law out of the 20th century and into the digital era.

So why is this important?

Fairness: The United States did not protect sound recordings under federal law until 1972. One of the legacy problems from that has been the failure of music services to compensate the performers of some great American classics. The MMA will bring public performances of songs prior to 1972 under federal law, thus giving those performers what they deserve.

Similarly, the third part of the MMA will provide recognition of the contributions of producers, mixers, and sound engineers and bring them explicitly within the statutory structure.

Efficiency/Innovation: The statutory license known as the “mechanical license” has long been a source of consternation for musicians and music services alike. It has been plagued by uncertainty in the scope of its application, payment of the proper royalties to the proper people, and in its administration. The MMA seeks to address all of these problems, providing streamlined terms, a single entity to administer the royalty payments, and a publicly available database of the authors and copyright owners in musical works.

We support these long-needed improvements as they will reduce friction in the marketplace, improve the administration of the law for the benefit of creators, and promote innovation in how music is offered to consumers.

Compensation: At the heart of the copyright system envisioned by the Founders is the basic premise that creators should be able to derive income and make a living from their craft. For far too long, the law has inhibited, rather than supported, professional musicians. The provisions of the MMA promise to make it easier and fairer for uses of music to be properly compensated so that the creators and copyright owners who have built the greatest music sector in the world can continue to use their special talents to make us dance, laugh, and think.

Creativity: Music lovers everywhere have benefitted from the rich compendium of works produced by our nation’s songwriters who have enriched our society and brought us countless hits and favorite tunes. But imagine a world where songwriters or other musical artists are unable to practice their craft since they simply cannot afford to do so. This long-overdue legislation will help ensure that those who want to make a living writing songs or contributing to the creative process have a better chance to be fairly compensated for their efforts.

It has taken years of hard work by many people representing the many different perspectives in the music business, as well as important leadership from key Members of Congress – most notably House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, along with Reps. Doug Collins and Hakeem Jeffries – to get us this close to updating the laws governing music. GIPC applauds and congratulates everyone who has been a part of this process and wholeheartedly supports the fruits of their efforts. The MMA is the most promising music legislation in a generation and we look forward to its enactment.

Frank Cullen is vice president of U.S. policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center.

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