Music Licensing Legislation Gains Momentum In Congress, Heartening The Industry In Nashville | Nashville Public Radio

Music Licensing Legislation Gains Momentum In Congress, Heartening The Industry In Nashville

May 15, 2018

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee heard comments on a significant piece of music legislation Tuesday that many in the industry thought would never make it this far. The legislation is a collection of bills, including multiple elements of music copyright reform, that lawmakers say would result in more income for copyright owners.

The Music Modernization Act is considered a compromise between nearly every corner of the music industry and streaming giants like Spotify and Apple. It recently received unanimous backing from the U.S. House and has some bipartisan support in the Senate. Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are co-sponsors. 

The general enthusiasm for the package comes as a pleasant surprise to some in Nashville's music industry. On Monday, at the Music Biz Conference in Nashville, lawyer John Beiter recalled the mood in 2017 during a discussion of the act. 

"The takeaway last year was that, well, everybody’s hopeful about something happening, but nobody believes in their heart that anything will," he said.

Beiter, who represents several industry trade groups, says he spent years "trolling the halls of Congress" to promote some of the bills that informed this legislation. But even he was inspired by the consensus that’s been built. 

“Democrats and Republicans came together on this when it seems to people watching the news every night that they can’t agree on anything,” Beiter says. “I’m heartened by the idea that music was something that brought people together.”  

The legislation has also reconciled some of the long-held divisions between the music and tech industries. One of the key components would try to create a simpler licensing system between streaming companies and rights holders like artists and record labels. 

If passed, the legislation would change the way some royalties are calculated and make it easier for songwriters to get paid by digital music providers. It would also protect those providers from some lawsuits. 

At the Senate hearing Tuesday, the Music Modernization Act received words of support from acclaimed singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson, who called it "historic momentum for positive change."