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New Federal Law Reforms Music Industry

Illustration by Gemma Fa-Kaji

On October 11, President Trump signed the Music Modernization Act (MMA) into law. In September 2018, Congress unanimously passed the act, which would eventually be signed, ensuring advancement and protections for all music creators. This act improves the way musical artists are paid by streaming services, and allows a more fair relationship between the two. This act also guarantees royalty payments through streaming services for musicians who recorded songs before 1972, covering up the massive loophole previously looked over by past acts.

The MMA is the updated version of the previous copyright law for music, and combines the Allocation for Music Producers Act, the Classics Act, and the Fair Play Fair Pay Act. The Allocation for Music Producers Act served as the introduction of producers and engineers into the U.S. copyright law. This created a legal procedure for music producers and engineers to claim royalty payments when recordings are used on satellite radio and online radio directly from SoundExchange, a collective rights management organization designated by the U.S. Congress to collect and distribute digital performance royalties for sound recordings. The Classics Act required digital services to pay for the use of pre-1972 recordings at the same rate and the same way as those that are paid after the date. The Fair Play Fair Pay Act also required payment for pre-1972 recordings by preventing digital services from exploiting the loophole of denying royalties to the artists and rights owners of the recordings. Prior to the two acts, all sound recordings made before February 15, 1972 were not covered by federal copyright protection, and were instead left to state law, where some states granted protection while others refused.

For instance, Miles Davis, one of the most famous American jazz trumpeter in history, recorded the majority of his wide array of albums prior to 1972. Of the artist’s 51 studio albums, a mere four of them were released after February 15, 1972. This means that for all of the other 47 albums recorded by the trumpeter received no royalties or payments for the usage and playbacks of the albums prior to the date.

This allowed big digital companies to use pre-1972 music without any worry of copyright issues or payment to the artists. This was clearly extremely unfair to artists of all genres, and negatively affected the music industry as a whole. Not only would artist not receive payment for their work, but it could be used anywhere by anyone for their own commercial use. This is why early hip hop sampled so many old records.

Not only does the MMA give fair payments to musicians with pre-1972 recordings, it also prevents online streaming services from exploiting music creators, and encourages new artists to create music while having payments ensured.

Given that the majority of music being played today comes through online streaming services and apps, this was a very necessary act to pass. This is a very positive step for musicians giving more power to the creators, and balancing the profits made by online streaming services.