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The Breakdown: What Songwriters Need to Know about the Music Modernization Act and Royalty Payments

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Calling all songwriters and music publishers—you may have already heard about the Music Modernization Act, or the MMA for short. But do you know how the law will affect the way you get paid?

Get the full breakdown on the Music Modernization Act, including more print and video resources on our MMA educational resources page.  

Basically, the MMA changes the way songwriters and music publishers are paid statutory mechanical royalties* when their work is streamed on interactive streaming services like Apple Music or Spotify, or sold on downloading services like Amazon Music. Beginning in 2021, a nonprofit entity designated by the Copyright Office, called the Mechanical Licensing Collective, or MLC, will collect and distribute these royalty payments to copyright owners of musical works matched to sound recordings in its database. And down the line, but no earlier than 2023, any unclaimed royalties can start being paid to copyright owners and songwriters of matched works according to each work’s market share. But to get paid, you will need to register your songs with the MLC. Sign up for the Copyright Office’s MMA newsletter to stay up-to-date on important developments, including when registration for the MLC’s database becomes available.

Remember though:

  • The MLC is not a performing rights organization (PRO), and registration with the MLC does not affect your ability to receive musical work royalties from PROs like ASCAP or BMI.
  • The MLC also does not distribute royalties resulting from private agreements, such as those negotiated with record companies, streaming services, or other distributors. Royalties for those uses will be paid according to the parties’ contract.
  • The MLC will only distribute mechanical royalties for use of musical works owned by songwriters or publishers. It will not distribute statutory royalties for use of sound recordings owned by performers, producers, or labels. SoundExchange distributes those royalties.
  • Registering your works with the MLC is not a replacement for registering your works with the U.S. Copyright Office, which can qualify you to go to court and collect statutory damages and attorneys’ fees if your work is infringed.

Want more info? Check out our page on the Music Modernization Act for educational materials, the history of this important law, and more.

*A mechanical license is a license that grants permission to reproduce and distribute recordings of certain musical works. Section 115 of the Copyright Act creates a statutory license for mechanical uses, which users can take advantage by paying required royalties and reporting information related to their use of the license. A copyright owner cannot say “no” to a statutory license for qualifying uses of their works.


Comments (18)

  1. So be it.

  2. Thanking you in advance for your enlightenment.

  3. The Mechanical License Collective must be cognizant of false claims/percentage for copyright ownership for registered musical composition/Mechanical Rights. The MLC must also be cognizant of false/percentage claims for Sound Recordings/Master Rights administered by Sound Exchange. Do not take my comments “LIGHTLY”, I have been associated with the music industry for SIX (6) decades and my companies and I have been victimized numerous times by this type of action again and again. I hope the MLC will get all payment structures correct. Please do not just take the words of the music industry so-called major companies, the MLC must conduct its own research.

    • Hi Samuel, thanks for your comment. We hope you will submit your comments to the Office’s forthcoming Unclaimed Royalties Study, where the Office will be recommending best practices to get complete and accurate ownership data into the MLC’s database. Keep an eye on our study page
      or NewsNet for when the comment period opens.

  4. Thank you for your services and protection.

  5. It takes time to for the FTC and the Supreme Court to enforce Anti-Trust Laws…. I must be the only musician in the world, who does not have a Label or a Publisher firm and has a hit single.

  6. Yes, heard about the MLC efforts on behalf of Creators. Thank you, this validates our own efforts as Songwriters who lay the foundation for the work in production process.

  7. Will the MLC collect backdated claims of mechanical royalties under any capacity ? If so how long will that take publishers/ composers to be cut? Does the MLC function in other countries in terms of collections? Is there a reference diagram or dialog for rate calculations? Are MROs regulated for matching to rightful Publishers/ Composers? Are there plans to blanket model performance rights? I am HFA Publisher and Composer … I am an ASCAP member composer / publisher. Thank you.

    • Thanks for your question. We would suggest that you refer to the Mechanical Licensing Collective’s (MLC) FAQ page for more info. Note that the MLC is only required to collect and distribute mechanical royalties for U.S. uses of musical works. You can find more info on rates here.

  8. If, in March 2021, I want to distribute a cover version only to Spotify and Apple Music do I still need to send a NOI to the songwriters?

    From what I gather, the MLC will take care of paying them the mechanicals. Is that right?

    • Hello Antonio, thank you for your question. If a digital music provider, like Spotify or Apple Music, is going to make and distribute “phonorecords” of a musical work (i.e., a recording of the song) to the public for private use, then it can use the Music Modernization Act’s blanket statutory license to do so. If a digital music provider chooses this route, they will then pay royalties and submit required reports to the Mechanical Licensing Collective who will pay the copyright owner — typically a publisher or songwriter. If someone is making a physical phonorecord, e.g., a CD, vinyl record, or cassette, then they can still get a statutory license using the Notice of Intent or “NOI” process. In that case, the person using the statutory license to make and distribute a physical phonorecord will be responsible for paying royalties and submitting statements of account, as required by the law. But whether the musical work is made and distributed by a digital music provider, an individual, or anyone else, if you are using the statutory license to create a cover song, remember that you cannot change basic melody or fundamental character of the musical work. You can, however, make an arrangement of the work to the extent necessary to conform it to the style or manner of interpretation of the performance involved.

  9. An extremely important question, as the laws regarding copyrighted music and podcasts are very ambiguous due to technological differences between podcasts and streaming technology…

    Will there be a streamlined process for podcasters to use in order to obtain rights to use copyrighted music? As you know, there is not a uniformly-accepted license that is specifically tailored for podcasters wishing to avoid copyright infringement, as there are for similar technologies such as streaming media.

    • Hi Kiecha, to address your question, there aren’t statutory licenses specifically for podcasts. Thanks for asking!

  10. I understand that the MLC is sanctioned to collect digital mechanical fees from those DSP’s required, and those DSP’s must be operating in the U.S. Two questions: are other Digital Rights Collection Agencies such as Audiam, Songtrust, CDBabyPro, etc. actually collecting digital mechanical fees for the use of the underlying work in their international agreements (in addition to collecting other fees as a rights holder’s admin)? Is there a possibility that the MLC will collect digital mechanicals for the underlying work through international agreements in the future?

  11. I hope that this MLC is for real,I tried claiming my sound recording in soundexchange catalog database, I claim my music that big time recording artists are using, like Mariah Carey, Tynisha Keli, Lucky Daye, H.E.R LLOYD Polite, Lil Wayne, they all made big hits songs from our musical catalog, song like,We Belong Together by Mariah Carey, I Wish you love me by Tynisha Keli, H.E.R. song call Slide,Lucky Daye song call Roll Some mo, Lloyd Polite and Lil Wayne a song call You when I claim my sound recording and prove that I was the owner,anyway gave my royalty to Sony music Entertainment, Warner

  12. My song title My Love is true Mariah Carey used the sound recording track, you can listen to it on Boomplay,Spotify, Amazon, and Tynisha Keli used the same sound recording track as Mariah Carey used, My song title Back Aways Lloyd Polite and Lil Wayne used my sound recording to make their song title You, and H.E.R. used the mid change in my sound recording track, song title Back Aways,we also synchronize the sound recording track by tracking the speed using our original sound recording track to synchronize the song Slide by H.E.R.and Lucky Daye starts low and slow to hide and than speed up the track we synchronize the rim tap and it plays as one,we also synchronize Lloyd Polite song title You,my song are there you listen and make your own decisions, these people have made millions off our music catalog,we started a record labels in 1997 call Will-Burn recording and publishing and Sony music Entertainment and Warner Chappell publishing have not paid us nothing not even a phone call to thank us for their millions that they stolen from us, they lie to their fan about their hard road to get there, and the awards they have received for our hard works and our dreams.

  13. Thanks everyone for all the great information you have shared. I have about 15 #1 hit songs in each category. At least twice a week a new song comes to my mind. So I stated writing them down over the last nine years eventually recording then over an iPad hoping to produce each one. I Focus on motivation, positive change and supporting eachother. Some how I have combined this in my crazy mind into beautiful songs and music for rap, country, pop, and rock. My hard work over the last ten years I’m confident will pay off to help change one life at a time and inspire others. So thank you again for everyone’s time and awesome information. Protect, Credibility and Change is one #1 goal. I appreciate everyone.

  14. Hello Matt Barnes I wrote this song and was there when the composition was done. So no one copied that songs composition.
    I was there on three of the songs that I wrote shake it off visions of love and we belong together when they were recorded and this was way back in 1976. So I think you might have something mixed up. Just FYI sorry for your loss.

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