This article was originally published in the October-November edition of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association (GBBA) News Brief
President Trump has now signed into law the much-anticipated Music Modernization Act (MMA). This law updates the terms and mechanism under which music publishers can distribute sound recordings and, by paying into a statutory licensing program, be shielded from lawsuits by songwriters, recording artists and record companies for infringing their copyrights. Commercial music licensing is enormously complex, but to illustrate one reason why an update to current laws was needed, consider this excerpt from the House of Representatives Report for the House version of the bill (H.R. 5447):
“Highlighting one of the many problems of the current music copyright law, Ms. Rosanne Cash … testified at the second music hearing that ‘‘To put a personal perspective on this, if my father were alive today he would receive no payment for digital performances of his song ‘I Walk The Line,’ written and recorded in 1956, but anyone who rerecorded that song WOULD receive a royalty. This makes absolutely no sense, and is patently unfair.’’” A similar situation applies generally to musical recordings made prior to 1972; so a part of the MMA referred to as “Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society, or CLASSICS, Act’’ creates a right for royalties for so-called ‘‘pre-72 works’’ using the same rates and distribution system for royalties already applicable to post-1972 works,” is meant to fill this gap.
In addition, as entertainment technology races ahead of the law, music services that wish to pay what they owe have had a tough time covering all potential claimants: Spotify, for example, has been hit with a series of copyright infringement lawsuits by organizations representing copyright owners, including one late in 2017 valued at $1.6 billion. One object of the MMA is to create a central, reliable database where Spotify and other services can find who owns the rights to which songs, and obtain a license for the digital phonorecord deliveries (DPDs) they make, to avoid such lawsuits.