Last October, Congress sang a bipartisan tune with the unanimous passage of the Music Modernization Act (MMA), one of the most significant pieces of copyright legislation in decades. Why does this matter? By bridging common goals and interests, policymakers were able to combine three related bills that were previously introduced to modernize copyright law to keep up with issues presented by new technology, like digital streaming, to create a piece of meaningful legislation.
The original Musical Works Modernization Act, first introduced in 2017, makes up one part of the final legislation. It establishes a Mechanical Licensing Collective responsible for the collection and distribution of mechanical license royalties to owners of musical works copyrights—the copyright that protects songwriters’ composition and lyrics. The creation of this entity, and of blanket royalty rates, simplifies the royalty process by eliminating the need for streaming services to identify each owner of each individual song, but still allows streaming services to negotiate individual rates directly with rights holders if they choose.
The CLASSICS Act makes up the second part of the Music Modernization Act, addressing a gap in the licensing of performance rights for sound recordings made before February 15, 1972. Older recordings previously had no federal copyright protection but were instead governed by a patchwork of state laws, leaving it unclear whether royalties had to be paid when these “classic” songs were played on modern, online streaming services. The final part of the Music Modernization Act originated as the Allocation for Music Producers (AMP) Act, which ensures the distribution of royalties to producers, mixers, and sound engineers.
The Music Modernization Act not only brings together three different bills but various stakeholders across parties and industries. After a slew of lawsuits involving streaming services like SiriusXM and Spotify, stakeholders across the board—from record labels and music publishers to musicians and songwriters to digital streaming services—supported the bill’s effort to simplify collection and prevent lawsuits from springing up due to the lack of clear laws that work for the digital age, such as a centralized and simple way to pay royalties to songwriters and composers.
Former Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who introduced the Musical Works Modernization Act in the House and the Senate, respectively, and spearheaded the combined bill, were joined in their effort by a bipartisan group of legislators from the Senate and House: The CLASSICS Act was originally put forth by a group of bipartisan lawmakers, including Reps. Nadler (D-NY), Conyers (D-MI), Blackburn (R-TN), Rooney (R-FL), and Deutch (D-FL), as well as Sens. Coons (D-DE) and Kennedy (R-LA) in the Senate. While these lawmakers may have many differences in other areas, there was a shared interest to solve a seemingly insurmountable problem of modernizing an outdated, complicated system. Singers, songwriters, and music executives alike sang their praises for this bipartisan accomplishment.
In passing the Music Modernization Act, members of Congress were able to work together to update glaring gaps in how music can be properly licensed and played on digital platforms. The Music Modernization Act, therefore, doesn’t just represent a change in copyright law—it also represents the hope for Congress can work in harmony on important issues when members reach across the aisle.