January 24, 2018

Harris, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Ensure Songwriters Are Paid Fair Value for Their Songs

Harris, Hatch, Whitehouse, Alexander, Durbin, Corker, Coons, Isakson, Jones sponsor consensus legislation supported by songwriters, music publishers and digital music services 

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Today, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce legislation they said would be the “most significant change in music licensing laws in decades” to ensure songwriters are paid fair value for their songs. The Music Modernization Act would set up a new simplified licensing entity to make it easier for digital music companies to obtain a license and play songs. The entity will also ensure songwriters are paid the royalties they are owed. The bill would also change the law to help songwriters be paid a fair market value for their songs.

The senators said the internet has transformed the music industry, and the Music Modernization Act updates outdated music licensing laws to make it easier for songwriters to be paid when their music is played online by a digital steaming service, or purchased online. According to Standard and Poor’s, there were 86 million paying subscribers to digital streaming services, who streamed music 252 billion times in 2016. Revenues generated from online music generated half the music industry’s revenues in 2016. As digital music streaming increases, the number of individual song downloads fell 24 percent between 2015 and 2016 and compact disc sales fell below 100 million units sold – which means less royalties paid to songwriters.

The senators—U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and Doug Jones (D-Ala.)—said the legislation represents a remarkable consensus among songwriters, music publishers and digital services.

“Just because some of our greatest music comes from previous decades doesn’t mean our music licensing laws should,” said Senator Harris. “By modernizing how we compensate artists and distribute their music, this bipartisan legislation will benefit both the Californians who produce today’s hits and the innovative technology companies who bring that music to their fans.”

“Songwriters will finally get a market-based mechanical rate standard, which should result in more equitable royalties from interactive streaming companies,” said Steve Bogard, president of the Nashville Songwriters Association International. “Until now, we have been tied to outdated rate standards Congress first adopted for player piano rolls back in 1909.  In addition, American songwriters will, for the first time, by law, receive at least half of all unclaimed digital mechanical royalties.  I want to extend my deepest thanks to all of our introducing Senate sponsors.  The Music Modernization Act represents the most significant copyright reform in a generation.”

U.S. Representatives Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Hakeem Jefferies (D-N.Y.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives on December 21, 2017.

The Music Modernization Act:

  • Adopts a simple licensing system for digital music services making it easier for companies to obtain a license to play a song and reducing the likelihood of litigation. 
  • Ensures songwriters will be paid the fair market value for their songs by:
    • Directing the Copyright Royalty Board to set compensation according to the fair market value when songs are sold, such as through music downloads, replacing the current below-market standard.
    • Removing a provision of law that narrows the scope of evidence the federal rate court may examine when asked to set songwriter compensation for when their song is played, such as in a restaurant or at a concert.  

The legislation is supported by the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA), the Digital Media Association (DiMA), the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers, (ASCAP) the Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) and the Songwriters of North America (SONA). Additional supporters include the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Recording Academy and the American Federation of Musicians.