After months of lobbying Congress on behalf of the Music Modernization Act, songwriters and musicians have scored a huge win for their cause. Today the Senate voted on the act and passed it with a unanimous vote. In today’s era of extreme divisiveness, it’s nice to see half of Congress come together and agree on something.
Now, according to Billboard, the act returns to the House for a final vote on the Senate version of the bill that just passed. The House of Representatives passed their version of the bill in April with a 415-0 unanimous vote (again, at least the Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing).
The bill is being renamed the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act after the Utah Senator who will retire when his term ends this year. Once the revised Senate version passes in the House, it’s on to the desk of President Donald Trump to be signed into law.
The bill is a series of compromises that breaks down into three parts and provides benefits for different rights holders. For the most part there were positive negotiations and compromises, though SiriusXM lobbied strongly to change the bill to benefit their services. Because of this lobbying effort, they were accused of trying to derail the vote. As a response, a group of artists, songwriters, music executives and even music-related companies signed a letter stating they’d boycott the service’s majority stakeholder Liberty Media if the bill did not pass. After today, that point may be moot.
“The Senate vote marks a true step forward towards fairness for the people at the heart of music who have long been undervalued due to outdated laws,” said National Music Publishers’ Association President and CEO David Israelite. “This was a long and complex process but ultimately the music industry has come out stronger and more united than ever.”
Billboard explains that despite the unanimous vote, it was a tense few days for the music industry as they awaited the results. The legislation first went through the fast-track process, during which all 100 senators were notified during a 24 hour period that so long as nobody objected, the bill wouldn’t need a vote and would be put off for unamimous consent approval. On Tuesday there were still 18 holdouts, but they stated they were on board just a short time later.
There were a lot of moving parts to this bill – it creates a blanket mechanical license and a body to administer it, reshapes how rates can be determined by courts, and establishes a rotation of performance rates hearings between U.S. Southern District Court of New York Judges. The performance rates hearings are between the two main performance rights organizations, BMI and ASCAP, and licensees and previously all BMI cases were heard by Judge Louis Stanton and all ASCAP cases heard by Judge Denise Cote. Additionally, any master recordings created after Feb. 15, 1972 will earn a royalty for labels, artists and musicians to be paid by digital services.
The next detail is likely why SiriusXM was so up in arms over the bill: According to Billboard, it “…also eliminat[es] a Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 carve out for “pre-existing digital services” like Sirius XM and Music Choice that allows for certain additional considerations not given to any other digital service when rates are set.” The other major component of the bill is the codification of a process to pay producers and engineers royalties through Sound Exchange.