Songwriters to Congress: Licensing Reform Amendment Needs Significant Tuning

WASHINGTON (Dec. 21, 2017) -- The Music Modernization Act of 2017, aimed at reforming the music licensing process and addressing other important issues facing the American and international music creator community, was introduced in Congress today by principle sponsor Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga) and others.

While the Songwriters Guild of America is grateful to the many members of Congress such as Rep. Collins for their efforts to protect songwriters and composers, problems inherent in the proposed Act leave SGA leaders believing that it is in need of significant fine tuning before the bulk of the music creator community will be able to support its passage.

In a statement to Rep. Collins today, SGA President Rick Carnes wrote that SGA’s first reading of the bill indicates while there are several very good points about the proposal -- including the section 114 performance rights-related reforms. However, Carnes added, “Our initial review indicates there are a number of serious problems that will need to be addressed before SGA and thousands of its music creator members and colleagues can pledge their full support.”

Some of the SGA’s concerns about the bill include:

  • Lack of equal representation of creators in a process meant to protect them. Passage of the proposed bill as introduced would likely be the first time in history that any national government has acted to sanction the creation of a music copyright licensing and royalty collective over which creators themselves would not share at least equally in governance. Under the bill, the collective would be governed by ten board members, eight of whom would be copyright administrators and only two of which would be creators (who would apparently be required to retain exclusive control of the rights in some or all of their musical works). SGA cannot support anything less than equal representation, the accepted global model.
  • Market-share distribution of royalties meant for unidentified music creators. The Act would also establish a process where royalties being held on “unidentified” works would be distributed on a “market share” basis. This means that if a song has earned royalties and the copyright owners can’t be identified, that money would be distributed mainly to the corporate copyright administrators that make up the majority of the global music publishing business, and not to the independent songwriters, composers and small music publishers who are far more likely to be the rightful recipients (but who are simply unable, by reason of limited resources, to effectively police the use of their musical works). SGA leaders are also very concerned about the incomplete nature of the protections the bill extends to music creators to make sure that they get their fair share of royalties on unidentified works once such royalties are distributed to publishers by the collective.
  • Limitation on the Rights to Recover Damages for Past Infringements. The Act as proposed also appears to limit the rights of music creators and music publishers to recover the full range of damages for past infringements of works by digital distributors in any lawsuits filed on or after January 1, 2018, no matter how willful and extensive the scope of such infringements may have been.

According to Carnes, “There are other issues concerning the bill that we hope to see resolved, as well, which we will more fully outline in the coming days in consultation with representatives of our tens of thousands of music creator coalition colleagues throughout the US, North America and the world.

We appreciate that the introduction of this legislation is simply a first step, and the SGA and the independent music creator community look forward to engaging in the subsequent review and discussion process on a constructive basis, with an eye towards improving the legislation to the point that we will be able to give it our full support.”

The full text of the SGA’s letter to Rep. Collins can be read here.

SGA president Rick Carnes speaks with Senator Orin Hatch about music legislation.
SGA President Rick Carnes speaks with Senator Orin Hatch about past music legislation.