David Israelite: The Music Modernization Act Marks a New Era for the Music Industry
The Senate’s passage of the Music Modernization Act (MMA) is a milestone by any measure. It is also just the beginning.
To put into perspective how astounding the MMA’s progress has been, first note that the MMA is the only music bill that has ever passed unanimously in United States history. Not only did the bill pass the House of Representative and Senate without one dissenting vote, it did so in an area where no compromise has been found in decades.
The MMA process began 12 years ago when piracy was the biggest threat to the music industry. The 2006 Section 115 Reform Act (SIRA) contained the same fundamental compromise that exists within the MMA — the ability for digital services to license legally all music and the assurance that all songwriters and copyright owners will be paid properly. That effort brought together songwriters, publishers, artists, record labels and digital services, but unfortunately it fell short of becoming law. The goal was not lost however, and it led to the effort that became the MMA.
This was not easy — and by no means did it happen without strong disagreements — but it does prove that progress is possible when everyone has something to gain and all parties have more to lose without meaningful compromise.
The amended version of the MMA that passed the Senate has now been reapproved by the House and is on its way to being signed by the President. While it’s appropriate to take some time to celebrate this achievement, it’s also not too soon to think about what’s next.
The next step after the President’s signature is the promulgation of regulations — essentially the federal government will determine the parameters around the many concepts in the MMA and how they will play out. The groups involved in getting the MMA signed into law will be laser focused on ensuring that the rules put in place are fair and transparent.
Next, we will focus on the creation of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) which will be the central hub from which streaming services will obtain permission to use the millions of songs found on their platforms, and through which songwriters will be paid. This includes identifying, nominating and electing the members of the MLC’s board and developing bylaws and processes that will govern the collective.
Finally, the most important step will be the engagement of the music community in standing up and supporting the mission of the MLC. Never before have we committed as a unified community to delivering an open, accessible database to ensure musical work owners are paid and information — and the royalties stemming from that information — is not lost. This is a problem that has plagued our industry since its beginning and this is the year that we as a community work together to fix it.
The challenge of matching sound recordings to musical works and copyright ownership will not be solved overnight, but it can be solved. The only way to do this is with the knowledge and commitment of everyone involved. American music has given the world an incalculable cultural contribution, but the people creating that music have never seen the fair fruits of their labor.
Speaking of those individuals, while the MMA becoming law is meaningful for everyone from songwriters to legacy artists and engineers, the process by which it happened is in many ways more meaningful.
Music’s creators — historically less involved in the business and politics of Washington — have found their voice. In a town traditionally dominated by publishers and labels, lawyers and lobbyists, what is exciting is that the most powerful advocates have become the songwriters and artists.
Their grassroots movement was galvanized through the MMA — championed by the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and the Songwriters of North America (SONA) and individual creators like Ross Golan, Ryan Tedder and Paul Williams who unleashed a righteous fury that is unprecedented. Calls to arms spread like wildfire and everyone from composers to major artists got involved and educated. The power of that creator army overwhelmed and outfought the powerful interests who opposed the MMA.
The MMA does not solve every problem in the music industry. There will always be more work to do. But the MMA proves that not only is it possible to enact transformative reform in an age and area of disagreement, but we will be working hand in hand with the creators who will benefit most from it.
Today marks a new era. An industry that was used to fighting internal battles has now become a unified force to be reckoned with.
David Israelite is the President & CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) — the trade association representing U.S. music publishers and songwriters.
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