Tennessee Senators Hope For A Breakthrough On Song Royalties By Year’s End

Mar 13, 2018
Originally published on March 12, 2018 5:56 pm

Supporters of a measure that would overhaul how songwriters get paid are still working to get it off the ground. The Music Modernization Act was unveiled in Congress late last year, but no action has been taken yet.

That's even though 14 senators have signed onto the measure as co-sponsors, including Utah's Orrin Hatch, a songwriter himself and the most senior member of the Senate. He's retiring this fall after four decades and says he wants to see royalty reform passed before then, but he concedes it's a tough deadline to meet.

"We'll see what we can do. It's going to take a lot of effort," Hatch said. "It's very difficult to find the time for newer types of legislation when you have the budget and all kinds of appropriation bills and other types of very difficult but important legislation as well. But we're going to do our best."

Hatch was in Nashville on Monday to receive an award from Nashville Songwriters Association International in recognition of his support for the Music Modernization Act. 

Tennessee Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander have also been major supporters. They say digital technology upended the system of paying song royalties, and the advent of streaming services has made it even more convoluted.

Companies like Spotify and Apple have generally interpreted the laws, some of which date back to the days of player pianos, in ways that minimize how much they owe. Musicians say that's made it hard for them to earn a living.

Corker says the rules for paying musicians are as complicated as anything he's come across as a businessman and senator — including missile defense and finance.

"I pride myself on knowing a little bit about business," Corker says. "But I do believe the music industry, and just how songwriters are paid, has got to be the most complicated thing I've ever seen."

Backers of the Music Modernization Act say the bill would simplify the royalty system. It would eliminate some of the transactional costs associated with paying royalties, an idea that theoretically should put more money in the pockets of the people who create music and the companies that play it.

But changes have been hard to make because there are so many interests — songwriters, performers, record labels, technology companies and good old-fashioned radio stations. Each would see their payments go up or down, depending on the final legislation.

Still, supporters of the Music Modernization Act hope to work out a deal that satisfies everyone by this summer. That would put them on track to pass the bill before Congress adjourns at the end of the year.

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