What the new Music Modernization Act does

President Trump’s signing of the Music Modernization Act on Thursday, October 11, was driven by the need to update and streamline music licensing processes for the streaming era, where more and more musicians are finding it difficult to collect the royalties owed to them from streams on Spotify and other platforms. It has become the most significant copyright law change in decades.

The bill received unanimous support from Republican and Democratic lawmakers in its passage of the Senate and House. Its passage has been awaited by the music industry for several years, stretching back to the Obama administration.

The bill accomplishes three main tasks:

  • It streamlines the process by which music rights holders can be paid for their songs being played on streaming services.
  • It includes a song’s producers in payment for when songs are played over satellite and online radio, the first time producers have ever been mentioned in a bill of this sort.
  • It allows for payment of royalties for songs written before 1972, to both songwriters and performers.

Vox’s sister site The Verge has more on each of these three points.

The industry has been grappling with the so-called “black box” problem around music streaming services for several years, in which artists could struggle to be paid adequately for streams of their songs on Spotify, especially, thanks to the service’s problems with music rights management. Kelsey McKinney wrote about these problems for Vox in 2015.

In addition to its unanimous approval in both houses of Congress, the MMA was met with widespread approval from the recording industry. Rolling Stone has collected some of the best quotes. (Notably, Spotify has expressed its own support for the bill, which it says will eliminate confusion around licensing issues.) Here’s one from Kid Rock, who attended the signing ceremony:

“There’s a lot more that needs to be done here. We need to go after the record labels next, and things like free goods. But this is a great start to protect songwriters, producers, engineers — the unsung heroes behind many of these songs that go out there. People like myself who are maybe more at the top of the food chain, it really doesn’t affect as much. But I know many people it does affect.”

For now, though, the bill’s overhaul of the industry’s payment processes will hopefully achieve the desired effect of making sure musicians and others in the music industry can achieve a living wage off their work, in an era when streaming and other digital platforms have hit the industry’s bottom line.

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