Our music copyright laws are outdated. But a music copyright omnibus bill introduced by the House Judiciary Committee, if adopted, would bring about several needed updates to reflect realities of the Digital Age. On April 11 the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up a new version of the Music Modernization Act. The core components of the bill have a wide base of support and a prompt vote should be a top priority of the House in the 115th Congress.
The new Music Modernization Act incorporates at least three bills previously introduced in Congress. My January 16 blog post, “Congress Should Advance Consensus Music Copyright Reforms in 2018,” provided a brief rundown for each of those proposed music copyright reforms: (1) the CLASSICS Act; (2) the AMP Act; and (3) an earlier version of the Music Modernization Act (MMA).
The CLASSICS Act would provide copyright holders of sound recordings made prior to 1972 with federal copyright protections for public performances of those recordings via digital audio transmission. This means copyright holders of pre-72 recordings would be able to receive royalties for such performances based on rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board pursuant to its “willing buyer/willing seller,” which seeks to “most clearly represent the rates and terms that would have been negotiated in the marketplace” among willing parties. For more on the CLASSICS Act, see my July 2017 blog post “Copyright Bill Would End Unequal, Inequitable Treatment of Pre-72 Sound Recordings.”
The AMP Act would set up a process for producers, mixers, and sound engineers to directly receive royalty payments via a collective entity, SoundExchange. This would not require such royalty payments, but facilitate them when creative artists and other copyright holders agree to subdivide royalties with producers, mixers, and engineers pursuant to negotiated contract.
The MMA, as previously introduced, would enable more timely and accurate payment of songwriter “mechanical license” royalties and also streamline blanket licenses for digital streaming services. It would accomplish this by establishing a single licensing entity that would ensure that digital music services have correct information. Additionally, the bill would mechanical licensing royalties for music compositions to the “willing buyer/willing seller” standard. My blog post from January 26 called attention to the filing of the Senate version of the MMA.
Rolling all three bills into a single new Music Modernization Act makes good sense. Each component of the music copyright omnibus bill would update and improve the state of music copyright protections in accord with Congress’s obligation under the U.S. Constitution’s Article I, Section 8 Copyright Clause to secure exclusive rights in creative works. Further, all three major reform components command a broad consensus of support. And a unified bill for modernizing music copyright protections may enhance the attractiveness of a fast-track vote by the House.
Passage of the new Music Modernization Act would count as signal achievement for the 115th Congress.