Increasing Fairness For Independent Songwriters By Improving The Music Modernization Act

Increasing Fairness For Independent Songwriters By Improving The Music Modernization ActAs advocates for all music creators, including independent songwriters, we have endorsed the Music Modernization Act, along with other organizations spanning the music industry, as part of a package of important reforms that will better the lives of people who make music for a living and strengthen the music economy overall.

We recognize that the Music Modernization Act (“MMA”) is at an early stage in the legislative process – the current version is the introduced draft.  Through its combination with other measures, such as the CLASSICS Act, and further Congressional process, including Committee markup, it should continue to be strengthened and improved.

To that end, we have closely followed the ongoing discussion around the introduced bill, including concerns raised by Grammy-winning composer and bandleader Maria Schneider. Many, including the National Music Publishers Association, have previously recognized the importance of her input on these issues and we too value her perspective.

We believe these concerns go to the heart of what prompted Representatives Doug Collins and Hakeem Jeffries to introduce the original Songwriters Equity Act and now the MMA.  As Rep. Collins eloquently stated, the purpose of reforming outdated laws governing songwriter royalties is “[t]o incentivize (songwriters), give them the encouragement and the strength to get the songs in their spirit out to the world and to give a better future for songwriters in the music business.”  Indeed, he continued, “[i]t’s the saddest thing for people not to feel they have a chance to share the song in their heart and bring it out to the world.  We need to help them get it out.” This is critical, as Rep. Jeffries explained, to “nearly 80,000 songwriters, composers and publishers (in New York) who deserve to make a good living.”

We are grateful that they were moved by the need to build a better future for up and coming songwriters and every working artist struggling to make a sustainable career.  That is what motivates us too and what lies behind the changes many are calling for – to strengthen the introduced draft of the MMA.

As performers and songwriters, we are most focused on three core concerns about the fairness and transparency of the new structures and processes the bill puts in place: equal representation for music creators on the board, fair distribution of unclaimed royalties, and accountability and transparency for the new entities the bill creates.

The composition of the new licensing collective’s management board is the key issue.  In the past, when Congress has modernized the law in this area, it has always insisted on equality between individual creators such as songwriters, vocalists, and musicians and the larger creative organizations such as publishers and record companies.  For the new system to work, it must remain faithful to that tradition and include equal board representation.

The bill’s impossibly complex and costly audit provisions fall short by failing to give individual creators meaningful and streamlined/affordable audit options and tools.  And the unclaimed royalties process has built in conflicts of interest that will disincentivize finding royalty claimants and thereby steer money away from new and niche artists, a completely backwards approach that will only exacerbate the challenges facing the industry in sustaining its diversity, creativity, and breadth.

Those who would benefit from the bill’s current structure respond to these concerns by arguing basically that this is the way mechanical royalties have been handled in the past or in other countries, that any proposed changes are politically impossible or that they would endanger the passage of the bill.

These responses ring hollow.  Simply because something has been done in the past does not mean that’s the only way it can be.  The entire digital streaming business built atop revolutionary legislation such as the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 is a testament to that fact.  As would be the changes already contemplated by this bill, which would create two brand new entities and reshape the system for distributing mechanical royalties.  There is simply no reason that Congress cannot further refine these new proposed mechanisms and make sure they are appropriately transparent, effective, and fair.

The further claim that any changes would jeopardize the bill’s passage is especially odd and circular.  There is no known opposition to most of these changes except for the NMPA which benefits uniquely from the introduced version of the bill.  Surely NMPA wants to continue forward on a consensus path and would not be so shortsighted as to throw away these groundbreaking reforms and major new benefits such as market value mechanical royalties and major changes to the CRB and Rate Court processes simply because it cannot have 100% of what it wants on these process/fairness questions.

c3 has been proud to work tirelessly on music licensing reform for years and specifically towards passage of these important measures, starting with our participation in the earliest hearings convened on these issues by Chairman Bob Goodlatte, carrying through with extensive member meetings and an unprecedented grassroots mobilization this year.

We strongly support Representatives Collins and Jeffries efforts and want these bills to pass.  But we also urge that that the process includes full and open-minded consideration to constructive and thoughtful suggestions to improve the legislation, so it better accomplishes what they have set out to do.

Given their historic commitment to fairness for all music creators, we are confident Representatives Collins and Jeffries will do no less.

The Content Creators Coalition (c3) is an artist-run non-profit advocacy group representing creators in the digital landscape. c3’s Executive Board includes artists and songwriters from across the music landscape including: Melvin Gibbs, John McCrea, Tommy Manzi, Rosanne Cash, Tift Merritt, and Matthew Montfort.


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One comment so far.

  • [Avatar for Valuationguy]
    March 20, 2018 09:30 am

    Given the arbitration decision just won by the artists over the streaming companies (which blows a hole in their business model imo)….there is little chance of that some sort of new bill WON’T pass.

    Good luck in keeping Congress from gutting the gains you made for artists…..