According to Neilsen, the overall consumption of music in the U.S. increased nearly 13 percent in 2017. R&B/hip-hop has emerged as the most popular genre in the U.S., yet Americans still love the classics – the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band was the top selling vinyl album last year, 40 years after its release changed music forever. The quality and timelessness of music combined with innovative technologies that now respect and support it has led to growth and optimism for artists.
While we celebrate these advances as fans of great music, the entire music community is also working together to modernize old laws that are failing to keep pace with today’s technology. We haven’t addressed the laws under which the music industry operates since the late-90s when the Internet was still in its infancy and CD sales still ruled. At a time when bipartisanship and progress towards meaningful legislation are scarce commodities in Washington, it is very encouraging that 2018 is shaping up to be the year when America’s music laws will be updated for the 21stcentury.
A bipartisan group of members of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member Jerold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), have worked with artists, labels, songwriters, digital services and music’s many other stakeholders to craft legislation which will modernize music policy. The Music Modernization Act (MMA), which will be introduced and marked-up by the House Judiciary Committee this week, combines music licensing reforms outlined in the CLASSICS Act, Songwriters Equity Act of 2015, the rate standard parity provisions of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, and AMP Act into a single, consensus piece of legislation. Each address specific legacy issues, such as establishing federal copyright protection for artists who recorded before 1972, creating a single licensing entity to administer music publishing rights for all digital music and ensuring producers and engineers receive royalties for their contributions to the music they help create.
Though all four bills woven into the MMA are extremely important, the CLASSICS Act will address a particularly long-standing injustice to legacy artists. A loophole in federal copyright law prevents artists who recorded their work before 1972 from being paid when their work is played on SiriusXM and digital streaming services. The legislation will close that loophole, which has caused immeasurable hardship for many of America’s most iconic music pioneers who brought us Rock ‘n’ Roll, Motown, Jazz and Blues that we still know and listen to today.
While there is bipartisan support behind the legislation, support from within the industry itself is equally significant and historic. The music industry is, in reality, quite disparate. Artists, record labels, songwriters, composers, music publishers, streaming services and performance rights organizations all play a critical role in making and delivering the music we listen to every day.
While differences between and among many of these stakeholders arise on occasion, the industry is united in support of passing comprehensive music legislation in 2018. Beyond supporting the MMA, the entire music community has also reaffirmed its support for successfully resolving the lack of an AM/FM terrestrial performance right to provide fair compensation for sound recordings. The musicFIRST Coalition continues to pursue a terrestrial radio performance right through direct talks with radio broadcasters represented by the NAB. We are hopeful that the music industry and radio broadcasters can resolve their differences, and that we can craft an agreement to pay artists for their work on radio as we have with virtually every other platform.
The legislation shaped by members of the House Judiciary Committee is broad and bold. We all recognize that the current, dated music licensing system is adversely affecting every stakeholder, so we have all come together to support comprehensive reforms. These improvements will support the songwriter who provides the creative spark, the artists and producers who give the words life and the services that bring great music to fans. That is indeed unity that is hard to find.
In the weeks ahead, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to consider and pass the MMA. While the Senate will adopt its own approach, we hope that senators will follow the House’s lead and take up comprehensive music legislation similar to what will emerge out of the House Judiciary Committee. Doing so will result in truly historic legislation where the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts and the benefits will be realized by music creators, services and fans.
Chris Israel is the Executive Director of the musicFIRST Coalition.