President Donald Trump signed the Music Modernization Act on Thursday, passing into law landmark copyright reform that Nashville songwriters have battled to pass for many years.
Trump was joined at the ceremonial signing by the legislation's chief champions, including advocates representing songwriters, publishers, record labels and digital music companies, along with the lawmakers who shepherded the Music Modernization Act rather smoothly through a bitterly divided Congress.
But at the urging of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia, the different interest groups came together to support the sweeping piece of legislation.
“The Music Modernization Act closes loopholes in our digital royalty laws to ensure that songwriters, artists, producers and providers receive fair payment for the licensing of music,” Trump said during the signing ceremony. "I’ve been reading about this for many years. Never thought I’d be involved in it, but I got involved in it. They were treated very unfairly. They’re not going to be treated unfairly anymore.”
The president was also joined by Nashville artists, including Christian band MercyMe, country artists John Rich and Craig Morgan, along with rock star Kid Rock. It was a fitting symbolic gesture, since it took strange bedfellows to propel the Music Modernization Act ahead. Songwriters and publishers had long been at odds with streaming companies over what copyright reform should look like.
"We have worked on elements of this legislation for 15 years," Nashville Songwriter Association International President Steve Bogard said. "With the passage of this law, every professional songwriter in America, including myself, who has suffered devastating economic losses in the era of digital music delivery, can now breathe a sigh of relief and be optimistic about the future of our profession. Along with the songs that bear my name, this is my proudest career accomplishment.”
The Music Modernization Act explained:
The Music Modernization Act has three main tenets:
- It creates a new organization which will be in charge of the digital mechanical licensing of a song. The new organization, run by publishers and songwriters, will be in charge of identifying copyright owners and paying them their royalties for when songs are played on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon or other streaming services. The onus for licensing had fallen to the streaming companies, and at times they failed to properly licensing songs, leading to multi-million-dollar lawsuits and class action settlements
- The new law also creates a new standard for setting digital royalty rates for songwriters and publishers, implementing the more favorable free market value standard, which advocates say will increase digital royalty payouts to working songwriters.Importantly, the law also calls for a random rotation among federal judges in New York for who oversees copyright hearings so that the power to set rates isn't clustered with a single court
- The legislation closes the loophole, which allowed digital radio companies to not pay artists and record labels royalties for songs recorded prior to 1972
Trump's signing of the bill garnered immediate, sweeping praise from the music industry.
"The Music Modernization Act is now the law of the land, and thousands of songwriters and artists are better for it," Recording Industry Association of America President Mitch Glazier said. "The result is a music market better founded on fair competition and fair pay. The enactment of this law demonstrates what music creators and digital services can do when we work together collaboratively to advance a mutually beneficial agenda.
It’s a great day for music."
ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Williams credited the creative community for advocacy that helped maintain momentum for the bill.
“Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of our ASCAP music creator and publisher members, industry partners and champions in Congress, a more sustainable future for songwriters is finally within reach," Williams said.
It was an interesting juxtaposition since earlier in the week pop star Taylor Swift, for the first time, politically endorsed Democratic candidates for Congress in Tennessee, garnering national headlines and underscoring the liberal-bent of the entertainment industry.
It was conservative lawmakers from the Republican majority in Congress who spearheaded the effort to pass the Music Modernization Act. The bill unanimously passed the House and the Senate, and was named in honor of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
“This is really big news for Tennesseans -- from Beale Street in Memphis, through Music City, all the way to the birthplace of country music in Bristol. We have thousands of songwriters -- taxi drivers, music teachers -- struggling to make a living, and in the internet age, sometimes they aren’t paid for their songs, and when they are paid, they're not paid a fair market value,” Alexander said. “The Music Modernization Act is the most important law in a generation to help make sure that our songwriters -- and songwriters all over America -- can keep working and make a decent living by making sure they're paid when their songs are played, and making sure that they're paid a fair market value for their work."
Next comes implementing the Music Modernization Act, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2020. The board of directors for the new digital licensing organization will be comprised of publishing company executives, songwriters and self-published songwriters.
How the new organization is formed, operated and which private companies emerge as partners will be of immense interest in the music industry.
"As we embark on supporting and helping build the critical structures within the MMA, we are humbled by the extraordinary progress propelled by compromise and the unprecedented political involvement of music creators," NMPA President and CEO David Israelite said. "Today is about their future and this bill stands as a great statement on what can be done when we work together."
Reach Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tnnaterau.