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Next Steps in the Music Modernization Act

If asked, many of us would easily be able to identify our favorite song or tune, and often to even quote verbatim (e.g., sing embarrassingly off-key) the actual bridge, melody, or lyrics that made that song so special. Whether it is the way a song made us laugh or reflected our innermost desires and fears, songs have a unique way of capturing our feelings and our spirits.

Matching songwriters to their work to ensure they are paid has been a long-standing and complex problem, further complicated by the advent of streaming services.

Though it’s relatively easy to identify the title of our favorite song, and even the artist or performer of that song, most of us couldn’t name the songwriter quite so effortlessly. These difficulties arise because often the songwriter is not a performer him or herself, or there could be multiple different song writers involved in making that one song, each contributing a unique part (e.g., a bridge here, lyric or melody there). Surprisingly, difficulties with identifying songwriters arise even beyond the general public. Matching songwriters with their work to ensure they are paid for their valuable artistry has been a long-standing and complex problem in the copyright arena even on the business side, further complicated by the advent of streaming services like Pandora and Spotify where millions of songs are played each day.

Under the Music Modernization Act (MMA), we now have a new system for licensing musical works that should help ensure the songwriters behind our favorite tunes can be properly identified and paid. And as part of the implementation of this historic law, just last week, the Copyright Office designated the Mechanical Licensing Collective, Inc. (MLCI) as the approved entity to implement key aspects of this new system, and the Digital Licensing Collective, Inc. (DLCI) to represent the interests of digital music services. Pursuant to the MMA, the MLCI will receive notices and reports from digital music providers, collect and distribute royalties, identify musical works and their owners for payment, and develop and maintain a publicly available database of musical works.

In designating the MLCI, the Office highlighted the support for the entity among musical work copyright owners and the organization’s projected ability to carry out the administrative and technological functions necessary to implement the law. The Office also highlighted the MLCI’s commitment to diversity in carrying out its duties. As part of its submission to the Office, the MLCI offered a detailed operational framework, reflecting substantial planning with respect to organizational structure, vendor selection, and collection and distribution procedures of royalties. At the same time, the Office appreciated the important submission of the other entity seeking to be designated, the American Music Licensing Collective (AMLC), and recommended that the MLCI consider whether aspects of the AMLC’s proposal should be incorporated into the MLCI’s future planning. Now that the designation process has been completed, the expectation is that the MLCI will fairly and equally represent the interests of all parties, including those who did not previously endorse it, and that key players such as the DLCI and the MLCI will build upon the cooperative spirit facilitated by the MMA’s passage to work together to make the implementation of this historic new licensing scheme a success.

The Music Modernization Act should help ensure the songwriters behind our favorite tunes can be properly identified and paid.

Following designation, the Copyright Office will now turn toward ensuring that the proper regulatory procedures are in place prior to the upcoming license availability date of January 2021, when the new system will be fully operational. Over the next several months, we will begin rulemakings relevant to the MMA, as well as substantial public outreach, including a tutorial explaining the basics of the new law, a webinar, updated educational circulars, and presentations at music industry conferences. We encourage interested parties to check back on our website regularly for updates.

To paraphrase one of my favorite songwriters, Sam Cooke, “[i]t’s been a long, long time coming, but change is gonna come. . . .” True change, of course, never happens in isolation. On behalf of the entire Office, I’d like to express appreciation for all of the detailed comments we received from the music community during the designation process. The Office is committed to working with the MLCI, the newly designated DLCI, and the music industry as a whole to ensure that songwriters around the world understand their rights under the new system and are properly identified so that they can be paid. Together, we will ensure that this new system is a success for the benefit of songwriters and the entire copyright ecosystem.

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