Advocacy Groups Coalesce Once More Around Music Modernization Act

It may be clear skies for the Music Modernization Act once again, as representatives of SESAC, the National Music Publishers’ Association, the Nashville Songwriters Association International, Songwriters of North America and ASCAP are now voicing unanimous support for the legislation.
The MMA contains broad reforms for mechanical licensing and songwriters’ royalty payments and has made its way by unanimous vote through the House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee. 
But a splintering occurred among supporters in July when private equity firm Blackstone – parent company of the performing rights organization SESAC – submitted a proposed change to allow licensing firms like Harry Fox Agency to compete with the Mechanical Licensing Collective to be established by the MMA in a manner that raised red flags with several organizations.
“We, as independent music publishers and songwriters, are concerned that suggested changes to the current legislation will shift the balance away from our combined oversight and potentially create an untenable working organization and situation,” the Association of Independent Music Publishers wrote in a statement July 31. “Since Blackstone/SESAC proposed its amendments to the MMA, we have lost momentum in the passage of this bill and there has been in-fighting amongst our community pitting songwriter against songwriter, and songwriters and publishers against a PRO.”
Barton Herbison, executive director of the NSAI told Pollstar his organization’s main issue with Blackstone’s proposal was it took away the songwriters’ control over the licensing process and would leave the MLC ineffective.
Artists like Maren Morris, Steven Tyler, Jason Isbell, Lauren Jauregui, Brothers Osborne, Brandy Clark and Dave Hause also publicly criticized SESAC’s proposed changes to the bill.
Pleas for a united front were apparently heard, as SESAC, NMPA, SONA, and NSAI released a joint statement Aug. 2 reading: “The [MMA] creates a single mechanical licensing entity which will establish an open, transparent copyright ownership database that will be overseen by music publishers and songwriters and paid for by digital services.
“At the encouragement of Senators deeply involved in the legislation and recognizing the importance of the MMA for the future of the music industry, the parties have endorsed a provision under consideration by the Senate to amend the Mechanical Licensing Collective’s (MLC) administration of voluntary licenses outside the scope of the Section 115 compulsory license in order to ensure private vendors can continue to participate in the music market, maintaining competition which is beneficial to songwriters and producers.”
Herbison said the amendments regarding the administration of voluntary licenses outside the scope of Section 115 did not raise issues that were present in other parts of SESAC’s proposal. He went on to explain that his organization still supports SESAC and sometimes there are quarrels in any family, but everyone is once again fully behind the legislation.
ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews released a statement Aug. 2 reading: “All parties have had to give and take in order to achieve this consensus legislation that has so far seen widespread, bipartisan support and would help update music licensing laws to improve the future for music creators. We hope the Senate will pass it without delay.”
The joint statement also included a quote from SESAC chairman/CEO John Josephson: “[All] parties came together to agree on outstanding items related to the MMA including the reform of the Section 115 compulsory license and other important related matters. We share a collective responsibility to help ensure that the MMA benefits all stakeholders in the industry and look forward to the Senate’s consideration of the bill.”
Dina LaPolt, attorney advisor for SONA and advocate for the MMA, told Pollstar the Harry Fox Agency may still be able to render services as a vendor on behalf of the MLC if the MLC governing board agrees to hire them. The governing board has 14 seats, 4 of which are self published songwriters. 
Herbison said the bill must be brought to a full Senate vote and, because the bill has seen changes, it must again move through the House. He was hopeful that such votes could occur in the next one to two months, at which point the final step would be a signature from President Donald Trump.