What Is the Music Modernization Act, and Why Should Country Fans Care About It?
Country music fans who have been on social media this summer have likely seen a combination of songwriters, musicians and politicians tweeting about something called the Music Modernization Act, or the MMA. They're advocating for its passage ... but what the heck is it?
Below, The Boot has rounded up some details to help fans understand the MMA and the current controversy surrounding it. Get informed by reading on.
What Is the Music Modernization Act (MMA)?
According to Rolling Stone, the Music Modernization Act (MMA) is the "biggest attempt at music copyright overhaul in decades." The act, which recently passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and is up for vote in the Senate, supports songwriters and artists by updating licensing and royalty rules for the modern era. Under the MMA, streaming services (including Spotify and iTunes) would work together with publishers to make the licensing process more streamlined. Additionally, the MMA would set up a blanket mechanical license to collect and pay out royalties from digital service providers.
Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, an MMA advocate, explained the act to Rolling Stone this way: “The MMA helps give songwriters a chance to license and clear their material for the ever-changing, quickly-changing streaming world ... Essentially, things just happened so fast – a lot of creators uploaded their content before there was the code and the licensing technology to figure out whose music was going where – and legislation is a step in the right direction.”
To put it briefly: The MMA would lead to songwriters and artists making more money from digital and streaming services.
Why Is Everyone Talking About the MMA?
In short: Because a controversial amendment to the MMA by performance-rights organization SESAC was threatening to kill the legislation.
SESAC is owned by Blackstone Group, a financial management company that also owns the Harry Fox Agency, a company that deals with mechanical licensing. The proposed amendment would have implemented "certified administrators" to work between SESAC and other music rights organizations (for example, BMI and ASCAP) and publishers to negotiate royalty rates independently.
In an official statement on their website, SESAC explained their belief that the proposed amendment "promotes competition and accountability -- that ultimately benefit songwriters, not insiders." Later in their statement, they wrote, "We respect all songwriters and wholeheartedly support the goals of the MMA."
The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), a songwriters trade organization, however, described the effects of the amendment this way: "Instead of songwriter royalties running directly through the music-licensing collective controlled by songwriters and publishers -- Blackstone wants them to run through streaming companies and the Harry Fox Agency!!!!"
On Aug. 2, however, SESAC withdrew that amendment, American Songwriter reports. “What we’ve clarified and agreed to with Harry Fox is they can [now] administer [voluntary licenses] without having to go through the Music Licensing Collective if they choose to do so,” explains Bart Herbison, executive director of NSAI. “That was a beautiful compromise that was in the spirit of this legislation, to let private companies control their own destiny.”
How Were Artists Responding to SESAC's MMA Amendment?
SESAC's proposed MMA amendment caused an outcry in the songwriting community. Artists including Steven Tyler, Lori McKenna, Maren Morris, the Brothers Osborne and more spoke out in support of the MMA with no amendment; proponents of the MMA as-is sent out their support on social media.
Graphics from songwriters, podcasters, managers, artists and more stated "I support the Music Modernization Act AS IS." The Brothers Osborne joined the chorus on social media by sharing this graphic and urging SESAC and Blackstone to support the non-amended MMA.
"What do you say @SESAC and @Blackstone?" the Osbornes tweeted. "How many voices will you choose to ignore until you finally decide you don't want to be the bad guy?"
Morris tweeted, "As most of us have stopped buying CDs and have turned mainly to streaming, the [percentage] songwriters get paid has drastically plummeted. The #MusicModernizationAct is a fair bill that is so close to becoming law to balance our outdated laws for song royalties to writers/publishers."
Travis Tritt also came out in support of the act, tweeting, "URGENT! All songwriters and music publishers should urge their U.S. Senators to support the bipartisan #MusicModernizationAct! Let's make our voices heard to insure that all songwriters are paid fairly."
In a tweet of her own, Margo Price urged, "Something must be done to save the #MusicModernizationAct and protect the rights of songwriters." She then cautions, "The greed of the @harryfoxagency & @blackstone will be the demise of the American Songwriter. Shame on you @sesac for not supporting your own."
How Can Music Fans Help Support the Passage of the MMA?
Due to some procedural changes, and now that the SESAC amendment has been removed, the bill will need to be voted on again in the House of Representatives, in addition to being voted on in the Senate. If you want to support the Music Modernization Act, contact your senator and tell them you support music licensing reform. This form briefly explains the bill and makes it easy to send your senator a message of support.