Photo: House Judiciary Committee
The Music Modernization Act Five Years Later: Congress Checks On The MMA’s Progress
The hearing gave members of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee the opportunity to take a close look at the system created by the MMA.
On June 27, members of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held a field hearing in Nashville to commemorate the five-year anniversary of the passage of the Music Modernization Act (MMA) and examine the law's effectiveness.
In preparation for the hearing, the Recording Academy made sure that creators were well represented with Recording Academy member and two-time GRAMMY winning songwriter, producer, musician, and artist, Daniel Tashian, testifying as the hearing's only active music maker.
The Music Modernization Act, which became law on October 11, 2018, was the biggest update to music law in decades. The Act united provisions from across the music community under one legislative umbrella to ensure advancement and protections for all music creators.
This was a long-term priority for the Recording Academy, which worked closely with Congress to advocate for its passage starting as early as 2014 — and was eventually represented in the Oval Office during the bill signing ceremony after the MMA's final passage years later.
The hearing gave members of the subcommittee the opportunity to take a close look at the system created by the MMA, while also examining whether the legislation is working as intended or if further improvements are needed.
Subcommittee Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) opened the hearing by stating, "We're here today to listen to some of those creators and other key stakeholders about whether the system we set up is working properly and what more needs to be done.
"We're here in Music City, home of the Mechanical Licensing Collective [MLC], to see if the MLC is solving the problems it was intended to solve," Issa continued. "We're also here to further the work of this committee and especially the needs of the creators."
Issa continued to state that people's ability to successfully create music comes from the copyright and patents the committee has instated for decades.
However, he emphasized that it is not enough to only "grant a right, we have to in fact make sure that right is rewarded in a predictable way that allows for two business plans: the business plan of those who take the license and the business plan of those who create the music we'll be talking about today."
Following the opening statements and remarks from Chairman Issa, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), and Rep. Ben Cline (R-VA) the witnesses took their oath and began their testimony.
In addition to Tashian, witnesses included legendary songwriter and former Academy Trustee David Porter, CEO of The Mechanical Licensing Collective Kris Ahrend, CEO of the Digital Media Association Garrett Levin, General Manager of Big Machine Music Michael Molinar, and independent publisher Abby North.
Tashian, who has worked with artists including Tim McGraw, Demi Lovato, Burt Bacharach, the Jonas Brothers, and Kacey Musgraves, began his testimony by highlighting the positive change the passage of the MMA has provided the music community.
He stated, "As a songwriter, I am grateful that the MMA changed the way we are paid by streaming services. This bill reformed a previously unreliable and opaque system into one that provides transparency and accountability. Since 2021, The Mechanical Licensing Collective has paid out over a billion dollars in royalties and has achieved a matching rate of nearly 90 percent."
Not only did Tashian outline how the MMA has improved a songwriter's ability to collect royalties, but he also laid out examples of ways Congress and the U.S. Copyright Office can continue to improve upon the successes of the MMA.
First, he emphasized that there is still "hundreds of millions of dollars in unmatched royalties and [The MLC] must continue their outreach efforts to identify every songwriter who has money owed to them."
Second, Tashian referred to the recent decision made by the Copyright Royalty Board on the Phonorecords III rate stating that "The MLC must work expeditiously to collect and distribute the back pay owed by streaming services to songwriters" within the six-month period, as stated by law.
Third, he reminded members of Congress that "The MLC is an administrative body, not a policy making body… recent disputes over songwriter termination rights illustrate that Congress and the Copyright Office must continue to stay engaged to protect the rights and interests of songwriters."
To conclude his testimony, Tashian ended on a high note by recognizing the AMP Act and the CLASSICS Act which both fell under the MMA in its final passage.
Tashian says the AMP Act "recognized the important role of producers, engineers, and mixers in copyright law. This provision codified the LOD [Letter of Direction] process by which producers can collect their share of digital royalties directly through SoundExchange, an important partner and friend to our community."
However, Tashian noted that the LOD process must be "streamlined and improved" and that efforts should be made to increase awareness of the practice within the artist community.
Finally, Thasian thanked Congress for including the CLASSICS Act in the MMA which allows "for the payment of digital royalties for recordings created prior to 1972." Tashian noted his own personal connection to the issue, as his father led the 1960s band Barry and the Remains.
Tashian's perspective on this issue was both unique to the hearing because he was the only current creator voice and was noticeably valuable, as the members of Congress repeatedly turned to him during questioning to ensure they received an artist's input on their inquiries.
His involvement at this hearing is one of many ways the Recording Academy is continuously working to ensure music creators are heard where it matters most.