What Is the Music Modernization Act, and Why Should Country Fans Care About It?
Country music fans who were on social media this summer likely saw songwriters, musicians and politicians tweeting about something called the Music Modernization Act, or the MMA. They were advocating for its passage ... but what the heck is it?
After some back-and-forth, the MMA is getting closer to becoming an official law. Below, The Boot has rounded up some details to help fans understand the MMA and the controversy that surrounded it. Get informed by reading on.
What Is the Music Modernization Act (MMA)?
According to Rolling Stone, the Music Modernization Act (MMA) is the "biggest attempt at music copyright overhaul in decades." The act supports songwriters and artists by updating licensing and royalty rules for the modern era.
Currently, songwriters' rates for streaming songs are determined by a law established in 1909, while performance royalties are determined by a 1941 law; also, songwriters and artists do not receive royalties on songs recorded before 1972. Under the MMA, streaming services (including Spotify and iTunes) would work together with publishers to make the licensing process more streamlined, pay out royalties of songs recorded before 1972 and give producers royalties as well. Additionally, the MMA would set up a Music Licensing Collective to collect and pay out royalties from digital service providers.
Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, an MMA advocate, explained the act to Rolling Stone this way: “The MMA helps give songwriters a chance to license and clear their material for the ever-changing, quickly-changing streaming world ... Essentially, things just happened so fast – a lot of creators uploaded their content before there was the code and the licensing technology to figure out whose music was going where – and legislation is a step in the right direction.”
To put it briefly: The MMA would lead to songwriters, artists and producers making more money from digital and streaming services.
Where Does the MMA Stand Now?
On Sept. 18, the MMA passed in the Senate. It passed through the House of Representatives on Sept. 25. Now, President Donald Trump will sign the bill into law. The Music Licensing Collective it establishes will begin operating on Jan. 1, 2021.
Why Was Everyone Talking About the MMA?
In short: Because a controversial proposed amendment to the MMA was threatening to kill the legislation.
The performance rights organization SESAC is owned by Blackstone Group, a financial management company that also owns the Harry Fox Agency, a company that deals with mechanical licensing. The amendment in question, which was proposed by Blackstone, would have implemented "certified administrators" to work between SESAC and other music rights organizations (for example, BMI and ASCAP) and publishers to negotiate royalty rates independently.
In an official statement on their website, SESAC explained their belief that the proposed amendment "promotes competition and accountability -- that ultimately benefit songwriters, not insiders." Later in their statement, they wrote, "We respect all songwriters and wholeheartedly support the goals of the MMA."
The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), a songwriters trade organization, however, described the effects of the amendment this way: "Instead of songwriter royalties running directly through the music-licensing collective controlled by songwriters and publishers -- Blackstone wants them to run through streaming companies and the Harry Fox Agency!!!!"
On Aug. 2, however, SESAC withdrew that amendment, American Songwriter reports. “What we’ve clarified and agreed to with Harry Fox is they can [now] administer [voluntary licenses] without having to go through the Music Licensing Collective if they choose to do so,” explains Bart Herbison, executive director of NSAI. “That was a beautiful compromise that was in the spirit of this legislation, to let private companies control their own destiny.”
When the MMA cleared its vote in the Senate on Sept. 19, SESAC Chairman and CEO John Josephson issued the following statement: "It's truly a significant day ... We applaud everyone's hard work and especially the Senators who have worked so diligently to get the bill passed. We urge the House to adopt the Senate bill for the President to sign, so the MMA becomes reality. We're excited about the future of the music industry and modernization that allows all music creators to finally be paid more fairly for their hard work and dedication."
How Were Artists Responding to That Proposed MMA Amendment?
The proposed MMA amendment caused an outcry in the songwriting community. Artists including Steven Tyler, Lori McKenna, Maren Morris, the Brothers Osborne and more spoke out in support of the MMA with no amendment; proponents of the MMA as-is sent out their support on social media.
Graphics from songwriters, podcasters, managers, artists and more stated "I support the Music Modernization Act AS IS." The Brothers Osborne joined the chorus on social media by sharing this graphic and urging SESAC and Blackstone to support the non-amended MMA.
"What do you say @SESAC and @Blackstone?" the Osbornes tweeted. "How many voices will you choose to ignore until you finally decide you don't want to be the bad guy?"
Morris tweeted, "As most of us have stopped buying CDs and have turned mainly to streaming, the [percentage] songwriters get paid has drastically plummeted. The #MusicModernizationAct is a fair bill that is so close to becoming law to balance our outdated laws for song royalties to writers/publishers."
Travis Tritt also came out in support of the act, tweeting, "URGENT! All songwriters and music publishers should urge their U.S. Senators to support the bipartisan #MusicModernizationAct! Let's make our voices heard to insure that all songwriters are paid fairly."
In a tweet of her own, Margo Price urged, "Something must be done to save the #MusicModernizationAct and protect the rights of songwriters." She then cautions, "The greed of the @harryfoxagency & @blackstone will be the demise of the American Songwriter. Shame on you @sesac for not supporting your own."
What Other Issues Surround the MMA?
Prior to the MMA's passage in the Senate, SiriusXM satellite radio was facing a boycott from 100-plus artists and executives due to some of their own objections to the bill. Billboard reports that a compromise was reached on Sept. 18, shortly before the bill was approved in the Senate.