Durbin, Bipartisan Senators Introduce Music Modernization Act

Bill represents “most significant change in music licensing laws in decades” to help songwriters get paid fair value for their songs

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), along with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bob Corker (R-TN), Doug Jones (D-AL), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today introduced legislation they said would be the “most significant change in music licensing laws in decades” to help songwriters get paid fair value for their songs. The Music Modernization Act would create a new, simplified licensing entity to make it easier for digital music companies to obtain a license for and play songs. The entity will also ensure songwriters are paid the royalties they are owed. In addition, the bill would revise outdated songwriter royalty standards to ensure that songwriters are paid a fair market value for their work.

“It’s no secret that music is enjoyed much differently today than when I was growing up. Records and record players now serve as decoration as opposed to the way to listen to your favorite Muddy Waters album in the comfort of your own home. But music licensing laws have not kept up in the age of streaming and downloading, and this has been a problem for music creators and consumers alike,” said Durbin. “The Music Modernization Act will reform outdated music licensing copyright laws that apply to internet music services, which will make the system simpler for them, provide fairer compensation for the song creators, and help consumers access their favorite songs for years to come.”

The Senators explained that the Internet has transformed the music industry, but that music licensing laws have not kept pace. The Music Modernization Act updates music licensing laws to make it easier for songwriters to get paid when their music is streamed or purchased online. According to Standard and Poor’s, there were 86 million paying subscribers to digital streaming services in 2016, and these subscribers streamed music 252 billion times. Revenues generated from online music generated half the music industry’s revenues in 2016. As digital streaming has increased in popularity, the number of individual song downloads and compact discs sold has fallen. Between 2015 and 2016, individual song downloads fell 24 percent, and compact disc sales fell below 100 million units sold. These changes have meant less royalties paid to songwriters.

The Senators said the legislation represents a remarkable consensus among songwriters, music publishers and digital services.

U.S. Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA) and Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives on December 21, 2017.

The Music Modernization Act

  • Adopts a simple licensing system for digital music services making it easier for companies to obtain a license to play a song and reducing the likelihood of litigation. 
  • Ensures songwriters will be paid the fair market value for their songs by: 
    • Directing the Copyright Royalty Board to set compensation according to the fair market value when songs are sold, such as through music downloads and CD purchases, replacing the current below-market standard. 
    • Removing a provision of law that narrows the scope of evidence the federal rate court may examine when asked to set songwriter compensation for when their song is played, such as in a restaurant or at a concert.  

The legislation is supported by the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA); the Digital Media Association (DiMA); the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP); the Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI); the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI); Songwriters of North America (SONA); the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA); the Recording Academy; and the American Federation of Musicians.