On the 11th October 2018, President Trump signed the Music Modernization Act (MMA), or the Orrin G. Hatch-Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act to give it it’s original full name.
It’s being hailed as groundbreaking and a landmark, and while it certainly is for the USA and performers from that country it is not an example of the USA leading the way, far from it. Everything in the bill is already law in Europe and has been for some time.
I’ve previously spoken about how far behind the USA was in terms of copyright laws and protections for creatives in a previous blog, with the biggest difference being America’s lack of a blanket license for all uses of music in commercial and/or public settings including terrestrial tv and radio, bars, shops and workplaces.
There has been a long-running campaign to get this changed, the “Fair Play, Fair Pay Act” was meant to do this and for a long time was part of the MMA, but many of the most important parts of it were removed before it was signed last Thursday.
The MusicFIRST coalition, the driving force behind the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act, while happy about the signing of the MMA had this to say about the new laws.
“The MMA has pushed us into a new era, but we still have strides to make when it comes to ensuring fair compensation for music creators wherever their work is played. That means terrestrial AM/FM radio. Members of the musicFIRST Coalition are in discussions with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to try to achieve this goal. And we must. The music environment is changing fast and its high time terrestrial radio in the U.S. joins nearly every country and begins compensating artists as equals and partners. So, while we celebrate this moment, our work is not done. Together, we will continue to work to harness the same enthusiasm that led to the MMA to strengthen the environment for music creators well into the future.”
So what exactly was still in the bill when it was signed? What does it mean for musicians and writers in USA and how do the laws in the USA now compare to the rest of the world?
The bill allows performers from the USA to claim revenue on recordings made before 1972, for the first time ever.
In Europe performers can already receive revenue for recordings all the way back to 1948, as the copyright term for sound recordings is 70 years, and have been able to for many years now. Since 1998 in fact, when performers were granted the entitlement to “Equitable Remuneration” for their contributions, so this law while bringing USA closer in line with Europe, Canada and Mexico, it still shows that the USA is 20 years behind most of the world.
The bill also creates a mechanical copyright society tasked with collecting and distributing new revenue created by the bill. The UK has had a similar society, MCPS (mechanical copyright protection society) since 1924, so again the USA is 95 years behind in doing this.
The bill also, for the first time, allows producers in the USA to be paid a share of the revenue paid to the performers, something that is long overdue as in the modern music industry the producer is often one of the most integral creative contributors to a sound recording.
Until now they have been entitled to absolutely nothing for their work as producers and previously if they also performed on the track then being credited as a producer disqualified them from payment as a performer. Don’t ask me why. I have asked that question to SoundExchange many times without a satisfactory explanation.
However, this new law ends the confusion and allows producers to be paid their rightful share. Something European producers have been able to do for some time now.
It’s also worth noting that for some reason this section, known as the “Allocation for Music Producers Act” (or AMP Act), has a delayed effective date so will not come into law until January 1, 2020. So not only is the USA once again behind the rest of the world, they have chosen to delay the remedy.
So, in summary, this bill does make huge strides forward for the music industry in the USA, but this not “groundbreaking” or “landmark” in terms of the global music industry.
As the MusicFIRST coalition put it, until “..the U.S. joins nearly every country and begins compensating artists as equals and partners” there is still work to be done.
You can read the full bill here.