Of the many movements garnering current political interest, music hubs such as Nashville have a keen eye on one more under the radar: copyright reform. While musicians are hopeful for reforms on the horizon, whether a byproduct of the complicated nature of the system or lack of public awareness as to how copyright law influences daily life, many music listeners don’t realize how important these potential reforms are to how people who create the songs those listeners enjoy on Spotify, radio, or at a live show.

Despite widespread general awareness for the change in the way music is consumed in the wake of new technology and a recent history of piracy, perhaps less well known is the effect these changes had not just on artists in the public eye, but even more on the full-time songwriters making an average living comparable to many industries in the US. According to the Nashville Songwriters Association International, since 2000, the number of full-time songwriters in Music City has plummeted by 80 percent. For those songwriters, it is not that they left to pursue musical work creation as a hobby, but rather, as a consequence of the increased difficulty in making a living writing full time. The currently pending legislation to aid these musicians may be packaged differently in omnibus bills moving forward, but the core components include the Music Modernization Act, the Classics Act, and the Allocation for Music Producers Act.

The Music Modernization Act acts as an avenue to more equitable pay for songwriters through the creation of a blanket license for mechanical royalties—those at issue in much of the legal action against Spotify and Apple Music streaming services. The change in the act would allow the rate-determining board to base rates on a more market-based willing buyer/willing seller standard, in addition to considering what a musical composition’s counterpart sound recording receives for such licensing. Such equitable considerations will enable songwriters to receive more dynamic rates, hopefully revitalizing the marketplace for full-time songwriters. The Classics Act takes an eye towards past music creation, wherein pre-1972 works currently receive inconsistent protection as compared to contemporary sound recordings. This act would require digital royalties to artists and their record labels for these decades-old recordings. Further, the AMP Act codifies a record producers’ right to digital royalties.

While these three pieces have received widespread industry and bipartisan support in the hopes of revitalizing music licensing for the careers of creator songwriters, artists, producers, and engineers, one bill (the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act), will likely not appear in combination with these other progressive moves. This act creates a federal performance right for artist sound recordings; for while stations pay performance royalties to music publishers and songwriters, radio stations do not have the same duty to recording artists of the songs they broadcast. Despite its bipartisan support, radio broadcasters will naturally put up a fight; therefore, it seems unlikely this equalization will be included with the other legislation for fear of holding up the whole.

A new omnibus licensing bill is anticipated in March, also including the Music Modernization, Classics, and AMP acts, but what additions to the umbrella will prove too much? Nearly every noted music industry advocacy group has expressed support for those three acts, but two others (a Congressional power to choose the Register of Copyrights and the creation of a copyright small claims court) have not received the ubiquitous industry support. Unlike the supported acts that focus on fueling investment in creators, will these potential authoritative provisions keep songwriters’ full-time careers in jeopardy as a bargaining chip?

–Greta Messer

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