The music industry is abuzz with talk of the Music Modernization Act, a piece of legislation that would dramatically alter the way musicians and songwriters are paid. Under the current system, the Copyright Act of 1909 is in force. That date precedes recorded music and, according to industry insiders, is inadequate in today’s climate of music streaming services.


Congress passed a law in the 1970s to extend copyright protections for recorded music but it did not cover recordings made before 1972. Classic recordings are seeing more airplay due to the advent of satellite radio and services such as Spotify and Pandora. The MMA hopes to ensure that classic artists get paid when their songs are played on such services.


The legislation Songwriters are currently paid according to a system called “willing buyer/willing seller,” that allows a service the rights to play songs, paying a rate determined by a judge. That will continue under the MMA (with some changes) but the mechanism for how songwriters will be paid will change. If Spotify wants to play a song, it holds the money due to the songwriter until the artist can be found. The MMA would have the services fund a Mechanical Licensing Collective in exchange for a blanket license. The MLC would be administered by music publishers and songwriters and not the streaming services.


The hope is that this will make the process easier for the streaming services while ensuring songwriters get paid for their work.


The legislation has gotten broad bipartisan support. It passed unanimously in the House in April and a Senate version is now being considered. The legislation got a warm reception by lawmakers in a committee hearing on Tuesday, May 15. There are still details to be worked out, but considering the favorable climate in the Senate, a bill could be passed by summer.