This week, the US House of Representatives passed the Music Modernization Act. While widely supported among many digital media companies providing on-demand subscription music services as well as by many in the music industry, the bill seemingly has not received the publicity that has been afforded to past music royalty legislation. That may be, in part, because there were few who adamantly opposed the provisions of the bill, as evidenced by a unanimous House vote – something that never would have happened had any significant portion of the music industry opposed the bill. But this moment of togetherness may be, in part, due to the somewhat limited (though nevertheless very important) issues that it addresses.

The Modernization of Music Act began as a legislative effort primarily to address the issues raised under Section 115 of the Copyright Act – the section dealing with what are often called “mechanical royalties” – the royalties paid to publishing companies for the copyright in the “musical work,” i.e. the musical composition. In other words, these royalties are paid to the copyright holder of the words and music to a song (sometimes the composer but more often a publishing company) – not to the artist who actually records that song. The provisions of Section 115 were first adopted to allow artists to record songs once a song has been recorded and publically released in the United States – to record a “cover” of the original recordings – provided that compensation set by agreement between the user and the copyright holder is paid or, absent a voluntary agreement, that a royalty set by the Copyright Royalty Board is paid to the copyright holder (see our post here on the last CRB decision on those rates). That mechanical royalty was later expanded to cover “digital phonorecord deliveries” (“DPDs”) – the making of digital copies of the musical composition made in the context of a distribution and delivery of the song to individual consumers. Through caselaw and industry practice, DPDs were interpreted to include the need for royalties not just when a digital download is made, but also when an on-demand or interactive stream of a song is delivered to a consumer.
Continue Reading House of Representatives Passes Music Modernization Act – Looking for Clarity on Mechanical Royalties, Pre-1972 Sound Recordings and Other Music Rights Issues

The CLASSICS (Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service and Important Contributions to Society) Act was introduced in Congress last week to try to clear up some of the ongoing disputes over the public performance rights of pre-1972 sound recordings. Through litigation, certain copyright holders (including, most notably, Flo and Eddie of the 1960’s band The Turtles) have been seeking compensation from digital and analog music services for the public performance of pre-1972 sound recordings. These sound recordings are not covered by Federal law. As the obligation to pay SoundExchange only applies to recordings covered by Federal law, some digital services were not paying for the performance of these songs. The artists that have brought suit have contended that state laws did create an obligation to pay for the public performance of these recordings, even though there were no specific statutory provisions establishing those rights. Thus far, New York, Florida, Georgia and Illinois have found there to be no right of compensation under state laws (though some of these cases are on appeal). By contrast, California found that there was a right for compensation, though that case, too, is on appeal.

The CLASSICS Act looks to resolve these issues by pre-empting state lawsuits and establishing that services cannot play these recordings without either getting a direct license from the copyright holder to do so, or by paying SoundExchange royalties under the statutory license at the fees set by the Copyright Royalty Board. If a digital music service pays SoundExchange royalties and obeys the rules that apply to such royalties, it is not infringing on the rights of the copyright holder. It can also directly license these rights, but must pay half the license fee to SoundExchange to be distributed to the artists who performed on the recording (in the same manner that half the fees paid under the statutory license are distributed to the artists).
Continue Reading CLASSICS Act Introduced to Provide Pre-1972 Sound Recording Public Performance Clarity – What Issues Does It Leave Unresolved?