How Does the Music Modernization Act Work?

The Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (MMA) was signed into law on October 11, 2018. The provisions of the MAA have overhauled several aspects of copyright legislation to better support songwriters and artists by updating royalty and licensing rules. As an amendment to the original U.S. copyright law, the MMA creates a new licensing system for digital music services that distribute musical works, provides federal protection for past sound recordings, and authorizes royalties for those who make creative contributions to sound recordings. In other words, the signing of the MMA has modernized a crucial part of the music business, significantly improving the mechanics of the industry.

To learn how it became law, what are its components and purpose and its expected outcomes, read the full guide here!

In this newsletter:

The Songwriters Caucus - which establishes a group of like-minded lawmakers who support songwriters and will play an important role in promoting the songwriting community by working to ensure the creative rights of songwriters are protected - has been relaunched in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The musicFIRST Coalition is once again calling for the passage of legislation that would compel stateside terrestrial radio stations to pay recorded royalties.

The Recording Industry Association of America has sent a DMCA subpoena to Discord, asking the platform to provide it with the identities of certain individuals who have been sharing musical data on the “AI Hub” Discord server hosting copyrighted songs after previously requesting that Discord disable the server altogether.
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Exploration Weekly - June 30, 2023
Compiled by Ana Berberana

NSAI Relaunches House Songwriters Caucus

Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) and Congressman Ben Cline (R-VA) have relaunched the Songwriters Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, establishing a group of like-minded lawmakers who support songwriters. To celebrate the launch, Reps Lieu and Cline welcomed songwriters and representatives from various songwriter advocacy organizations to Capitol Hill, where the Members announced the formation of the caucus and heard songs performed by the songwriters who were present. “My district in Southern California is home to many talented songwriters whose work contributes so much to our culture and society,” says Rep. Lieu. “I’m thrilled to join Congressman Ben Cline in co-chairing the new bipartisan Congressional Songwriter’s Caucus, which will work to support America’s brilliant songwriters by ensuring they can protect their work and make a living doing what they love. Music contributes so much to our way of life, and we must ensure those creating it are compensated fairly. I’m grateful to the numerous songwriter advocacy organizations who’ve partnered with us on the creation of this caucus and look forward to working together to support our artists.” “Making art, specifically music, is a powerful way to leave a mark on the world,” said Rep. Cline. “It’s a part of our everyday lives, from what we listen to on our commutes in the morning, to the music we select for our most important life events, such as birthdays, weddings, and funerals. But today’s modern music landscape can make it more difficult for certain artists, especially independent songwriters, to make a living. That is why I’m proud to co-chair the Congressional Songwriters Caucus, which will play an important role in promoting the songwriting community by working to ensure the creative rights of songwriters are protected.” The Congressional Songwriters Caucus is supported by Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), the Recording Academy, BMI and ASCAP.

musicFIRST Coalition Doubles Down on Calls for Terrestrial Radio Royalties as House Hearing Gauges the Music Modernization Act’s Effectiveness

Capitalizing upon a congressional hearing on the Music Modernization Act (MMA), the musicFIRST Coalition is once again calling for the passage of legislation that would compel stateside terrestrial radio stations to pay recorded royalties. Held specifically by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, the mentioned hearing took place in Nashville this morning. As its title suggests, the hearing was designed to analyze the effectiveness of (and potential areas of improvement within) the half-decade-old MMA. Witnesses including Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) CEO Kris Ahrend, DiMA CEO Garrett Levin, and Big Machine GM Michael Molinar – the latter two individuals also sit on the MLC’s board – appeared at the hearing, ahead of which musicFIRST sent a letter to the committee’s chairman, ranking member, and other members. Shared with Digital Music News today, the message urged the previously noted recipients “to also consider the ways in which artists’ fight for compensation for the use of their work continues” – while simultaneously underscoring the current royalty framework’s global implications. “By failing to pay artists anything at all when their music is played domestically,” musicFIRST wrote, “American artists also lose out on royalties abroad. The vast majority of foreign nations – those who do already pay artists for radio plays – withhold royalties from American music artists whose songs are played in their countries, simply because the United States does not pay their artists here. Annually, this amounts to approximately $200 million in lost income for American artists.” Of course, the organization’s claim that “the United States does not pay their artists here” refers to the fact that AM/FM radio stations cough up only for the use of underlying compositions (not recordings) in the States. And on this front, musicFIRST likewise took the opportunity to call for the passage of the American Music Fairness Act.

RIAA Asks Discord to Remove ‘AI Hub’ Server Hosting Copyrighted Songs

As generative AI has made its way into the hands of consumers in recent months, the music industry has stepped up efforts to protect its intellectual property against copyright infringement – even if the line between fair use and infringement isn’t always clear in the new AI ecosystem. One question that has come up is whether using a copyrighted work to train an AI model is itself a violation of copyright. For instance, if an AI model learns music by listening to the works of Ed Sheeran, and then incorporates Sheeran’s musical or vocal stylings into its own creations, is that copyright infringement? In the view of many in the music industry, yes it is. After an AI-generated track purporting to be from Drake and The Weeknd went viral on TikTok, YouTube and elsewhere in April, Universal Music Group (UMG) was unequivocal in its assertion that ripping off a musician’s sound and style amounts to infringement. “The training of generative AI using our artists’ music (which represents both a breach of our agreements and a violation of copyright law) as well as the availability of infringing content created with generative AI on DSPs, begs the question as to which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation,” UMG – which works with both Drake and The Weeknd – said in a statement to MBW. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has sent a DMCA subpoena to Discord, asking the platform to provide it with the identities of certain individuals who have been sharing musical data on the “AI Hub” Discord server. The subpoena, filed with the US District Court for the District of Columbia on June 14, requests that Discord “disclose the identities, including names, physical addresses, IP addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, payment information, account updates and account histories” of users who had posted Discord links featuring datasets of copyrighted songs. Among the songs the RIAA says were shared without authorization are Mariah Carey’s Always Be My Baby, 50 Cent’s In Da Club, Olivia Rodrigo’s Jealousy, Jealousy, Shakira’s Whenever, Wherever, and Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours of the Morning. Discord has until June 30 to comply with the subpoena, or contest it in court.

Songwriter Calls for Review of US Mechanical Rights Compulsory License

Songwriter and copyright campaigner George Johnson has urged the American Copyright Office to review the compulsory license that exists in the US covering the mechanical copying of songs, with a “full repeal” of that license very much on the agenda. The existence of that compulsory license means that songwriters and music publishers are obliged to allow the copying of their songs – whether onto physical discs or through digital delivery – at rates set by the panel of judges known as the Copyright Royalty Board. Recent CRB rulings on what those rates should be have proven to be controversial, with Johnson actively participating in those proceedings. When it comes to the royalties due on CDs and vinyl, the major publishers were criticized for too readily accepting the status quo, given the biggest customers of mechanical rights in that domain are their sister record companies. In the end, in no small part thanks to Johnson, the status quo was not accepting and the rates were increased. When it comes to digital, the songwriter community and the music publishers, including the majors, were much more closely aligned after many of the streaming services tried to get the rates they have to pay reduced. The CRB reviews the rates every five years. And at one point the streaming services were both appealing a previous rate increase while also campaigning for a deduction as part of the next review. That rate increase – which was due to come into effect in a staggered fashion between 2018 and 2022 – was ultimately upheld last year, although the CRB only actually issued its final determination on the matter last week. Meanwhile, the writers, publishers and streaming services reached a deal regarding the rates for 2023 to 2027, although that also led to some concerns around transparency for the writers.

BMI Launches Extensive Customer Service Initiative to Better Serve its Affiliates

BMI today announced it is launching a new initiative to modernize and enhance the customer service experience for its songwriters, composers and publishers. The new project will roll out in multiple phases and include the creation of a dedicated customer service team based in BMI’s Nashville office and the implementation of new processes and technologies to more effectively manage the high volume of royalty administration inquiries the Company receives. Alison Smith, BMI’s EVP, Chief Distribution & Publisher Relations Officer, will oversee the new initiative, working closely with Mike Steinberg, BMI’s EVP, Chief Revenue & Creative Officer. Said Smith, “It has always been a priority to address the many administration and royalty questions we receive from our affiliates and offer the guidance and help that is so important to our creative community. Given the millions of affiliates we serve and the trillions of transactions we now process each year, we’re very excited to take on this new initiative that will accommodate the ever-growing volume of affiliates who require our assistance on a daily basis. By using the latest customer service technologies and strategies, we will be in a much stronger position to respond in the fastest and most effective way possible to the evolving needs of our songwriters, composers and publishers.” Steinberg added, “This is a great solution to help us better manage the many calls that come into our Creative team about royalty systems and processes. By streamlining this process, we can make sure that the inquiries we receive are sent to the right place and that our Creative team can continue to focus on providing creative support and guidance to our incredible roster of affiliates.”

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