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Copyright compromise: Music Modernization Act signed into law


Musicians are celebrating as the Music Modernization Act, an attempt to drag copyright and royalty rules into the 21st century, is signed into law after unanimous passage through Congress. The act aims to centralize and simplify the process by which artists are tracked and paid on digital services like Spotify and Pandora, and also extends the royalty treatment to songs recorded before 1972. The problems in this space have affected pretty much every party. Predictably, it isnt the labels, distributors or new services that got hosed — its artists, who often saw comically small royalty payments from streams if they saw anything at all. Even so, the MMA has enjoyed rather across-the-board support from all parties, because existing law is so obscure and inadequate. And it will remain that way to a certain extent — this isnt layman territory and things will remain obscure. But the act will address some of the glaring issues current in the media landscape. The biggest change is probably the creation of the Mechanical Licensing Collective. This new organization centralizes the bookkeeping and royalty payment process, replacing a patchwork of agreements that required lots of paperwork from all sides (and as usual, artists were often the ones left out in the cold as a result). The MLC will be funded by companies like Pandora or Google that want to enter into digital licensing agreements, meaning there will be no additional commission or fee for the MLC, but the entity will actually be run by music creators and publishers. Previously digital services and music publishers would enter into separately negotiated agreements, a complex and costly process if you want to offer a comprehensive library of music — one that stifled new entrants to the market. Nothing in the new law prevents companies from making these agreements now, as some companies will surely prefer to do, but the MLC offers a simple, straightforward solution and also a blanket license option where you can just pay for all the music in its registry. This could in theory nurture new services that cant spare the cash for the hundred lawyers required for other methods. Theres one other benefit to using the MLC: youre shielded from liability for statutory damages. Assuming a company uses it correctly and pays their dues, theyre no longer vulnerable to lawsuits that allege underpayment or other shenanigans — the kind of thing streaming providers have been weathering in the courts for years, with potentially massive settlements. Spotify faces $1.6 billion lawsuit from music publisher alleging copyright infringementThe law also improves payouts for producers and engineers, who have historically been under-recognized and certainly under-compensated for their roles in music creation. Writers and performers are critical, of course, but theyre not the only components to a great song or album, and its important to recognize this formally. The last component of the MMA, the CLASSICS Act, is its most controversial, though even its critics seem to admit that its better than what we had before. CLASSICS essentially extends standard copyright rules to works created before 1972, during which year copyright law changed considerably and left pre-1972 works largely out of the bargain. Advocacy groups knock unjust copyright-extending CLASSICS ActWhats the problem? Well, it turns out that many works that would otherwise enter the public domain would be copyright-protected (or something like it — there are some technical differences) until 2067, giving them an abnormally long term of protection. And whats more, these works would be put under this new protection automatically, with no need for the artists to register them. That may sound convenient, but it also means that thousands of old works would be essentially copyrighted even though their creators, if theyre even alive, have asserted no intention of seeking that status. A simple registry for those works was proposed by a group of data freedom advocates, but their cries were not heard by those crafting and re-crafting the law. Admittedly its something of an idealistic objection, and the harm to users is largely theoretical. The bill proceeded more or less as written. At all events the Music Modernization Act is now law; its unanimous passage is something of an achievement these days, though God knows both sides need as many wins as they can get.

The Music Modernization Act has been signed into law


President Trump has signed the Music Modernization Act (MMA) into law, officially passing the most sweeping reform to copyright law in decades. The bill, heralded by labels, musicians, and politicians, unanimously passed through both the House and Senate before going to the president. These are the acts three main pieces of legislation: What does all this mean? First, songwriters and artists will receive royalties on songs recorded before 1972. Second, the MMA will improve how songwriters are paid by streaming services with a single mechanical licensing database overseen by music publishers and songwriters. The cost of creating and maintaining this database will be paid for by digital streaming services. Third, the act will take unclaimed royalties due to music professionals and provide a consistent legal process to receive them. Previously, these unclaimed royalties were held by digital service providers like Spotify. All of this should also ensure that artists are paid more and have an easier time collecting money they are owed. As part of the MMA, blanket licensing and royalty payments will be more streamlined. As Meredith Rose from Public Knowledge told The Verge earlier this month: It also does a thing which you couldnt really do with these kinds of licenses before: obtain a blanket license. You can license the whole corpus of musical compositions, and before you [didnt have] an entity that was allowed to license everything. So if Spotify was starting today theyd be able to jump in and say, Okay, I want all of it, write one check, and then just kind of go about their business. The Music Modernization Act is now the law of the land, and thousands of songwriters and artists are better for it, said Recording Industry Association of America president Mitch Glazier in a statement. The result is a music market better founded on fair competition and fair pay. The enactment of this law demonstrates what music creators and digital services can do when we work together collaboratively to advance a mutually beneficial agenda.