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On the Music Modernization Act’s 5th Anniversary, Streaming Services Are Trying to Redefine Its Intent (Guest Column)

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As the author of the Music Modernization Act (MMA), I am thrilled with the benefits it has provided music creators and music streaming services. Rarely does Congress come together in a bipartisan, bicameral way to respond to a market problem with a comprehensive, collaborative and business-driven solution.

The bill updated copyright law for the digital generation, and the cornerstone of the legislation — the creation of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) — has been a shining example of an industry working together to solve major market challenges. However, recent attempts by streaming services to redefine the original intent of the statute, to benefit themselves, are concerning and must be corrected.


With the MLC’s Re-Designation Underway, Streamers and Publishers Clash Over Its Future


The MLC was created to solve a massive music industry problem. Streaming services often failed to find the correct copyright owners and therefore held on to large sums of money owed to songwriters and music publishers. This both kept earnings from rightful owners and also opened streaming services up to large amounts of liability — from which lawsuits were piling up, costing them hundreds of millions of dollars. Both sides had a major incentive to find a better way forward.

Along with my colleague, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), I authored a bill to establish a company that would be funded by the digital streaming companies, and governed by copyright owners, which would receive all of the streaming mechanical money owed and then distribute that money based on copyright ownership. The company would also operate a first-of-its-kind public database so that song ownership information would be more transparent than ever.

To create the MLC, the U.S. Copyright Office held an impartial designation period where anyone could campaign to run the company. A coalition representing the vast majority of the music publishing and songwriting industry came together and was selected.

In five short years, the MLC was activated and is now a towering example of success. It has distributed over $2 billion in royalties to publishers and songwriters. It has a match rate of over 90%. It operates the most accurate, open database of music rights information in the world.

Crucially, as the MLC is responsible for ensuring accurate payments to its songwriter and publisher members, the MMA made clear that it not only has the authority but is mandated to enforce the rights of its members if it determines any streaming service is not reporting or paying properly. Most recently, the MLC was forced to litigate against Pandora for underpaying royalties.


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Unfortunately, this has led DiMA, which represents the major streaming companies and has a seat on the MLC’s board, to attempt to reinterpret the original intent of the MMA. They are pushing the misguided idea that the MLC was meant to be “neutral” when it comes to enforcing the rights of copyright owners. Nothing could be further from our objective.

This definition of neutral is simply another way to take the voice away from those who have struggled to be heard when it comes to receiving what they are owed for their labors. This was never the intent.

Should the MLC not enforce and litigate when necessary to uphold the rights of its members, those members would have absolutely no recourse to defend their property rights. This notion of neutrality would make the MLC toothless and completely undermine the important role of the Collective. Allowing the MLC to dole out royalties is inextricable from its primary purpose of ensuring those royalties are correct.

It is a perversion of the legislation to attempt to convince current lawmakers that the MLC was meant to give equal weight to the opinions of the digital companies as the rights of songwriters. Of course, there is a massive incentive for DiMA and its membership to want the MLC to relinquish its role as enforcer of music creators’ copyrights. Billions of dollars in royalties are on the line.

The streaming services’ vision of a neutral MLC is not in line with the original intent of the MMA, and they know it because they were intimately involved in the lengthy negotiation of the language of the bill. The resulting legislation was fair and allowed for the collective and the courts to do their jobs when it comes to disputes.

The five-year milestone since the MMA was signed into law is an important time for reflection and refining. However, it is not a time to redefine the most important music legislation of our time.

Doug Collins is a lawyer and former Member of Congress representing Georgia’s Ninth Congressional District. He served as Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee as well as Vice Chairman of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet. He introduced the Music Modernization Act along with the bill’s lead cosponsor, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).

Doug Collins

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