What the Music Modernization Act means for Nashville songwriters


The Modern Royals at the finals for Music City Breakthrough in Nashville, Tenn. 11/04/14

Photo by Matt Masters / MTSU Sidelines Archive

Story by Trianne Newbrey

On Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, Congress approved the Music Modernization Act before moving it to the president’s desk for it to officially become law.

The Music Modernization Act is a bill introduced by Sen. Robert Goodlatte, R-VA., and Sen. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. It is also supported by several other senators, including Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN.

The MMA will replace the outdated Copyright Act of 1909, which dealt with player piano licensing. The new bill is split into three parts and amends the copyright laws to include digital streaming services for the first time in history.

In the first part of the bill, the MMA will issue a blanket mechanical license, which grants legal distribution and replication of all recordings filed under the new Music Licensing Committee that will provide songwriters and publishers royalties from digital streaming services.

“(The MMA) tells everybody who wrote what song,” said Beverly Keel, the chair of MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry. “Right now, Spotify and Pandora are sitting on millions of dollars because they don’t know who to pay.”  

The creation of the MLC will subdue this problem. The MLC is a free public database that will hold all eligible songs and will be overseen by professional music publishers and songwriters. The database will hold copyright information for songs registered and will be easily accessible for digital streaming services.

The second part of the bill, known as the CLASSICS Act, will allow artists and producers of pre-1972 recordings to claim compensation for digital distributions for their sound recordings. The original copyright act was edited to support songs only released after 1972, so older songs were left out and freely distributed by streaming services.

The third part of the bill will give studio professionals copyright over their works for the first time in history. Digital streaming services will now provide royalties to producers, engineers and mixers and not rely on contracts with record companies to be compensated.

In short, the bill states that all contributors to sound recordings who have initially been overlooked and underpaid by digital streaming services will finally receive fair pay for their works. For Nashville, a town known as “Music City” and the “songwriting capital of the world,” the MMA may be a big step forward. It will provide music creators in Nashville reassurance that their works will be paid for their worth after years of being shortchanged by digital streaming services.

“Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City,” Alexander said in an opinion piece for The Tennessean. “Thousands of them work as waiters, bus drivers or teachers as they build their songwriting career. Their paychecks ought to be based on the fair market value of their songs – so that when they write a hit heard around the world, they can see it in their billfolds.”

To contact Lifestyles Editor Sydney Wagner, email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

For more updates, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_Life.

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