July 25, 2018

Is The Music Modernization Act Going Down?

By: Carter Wyckoff

Radio Ink

July 25, 2018


It could be, according to The Tennessean, which is saying: “An 11th-hour proposal by the music licensing company SESAC to change the Music Modernization Act could torpedo the landmark copyright legislation that is on the brink of becoming law, supporters of the legislation warn.” The MMA would establish a role for Congress as the Department of Justice reviews consent decrees with the two largest performing rights organizations — ASCAP and BMI. Between them, the two entities license over 90 percent of the musical works played on local radio stations.

As previously reported by Radio Ink, the MMA is due to go to the full Senate for further consideration after clearing the House and a crucial Senate committee without any opposition.

SESAC — the Nashville-based for-profit licensing agency owned by the private equity firm Blackstone — is apparently not pleased with one element of the MMA that sets out to create a new licensing collective to oversee digital mechanical licensing for songwriters and music publishers. SESAC is concerned that the Harry Fox Agency — which it purchased in 2015 from the National Music Publishers Association — will be made obsolete by the provision.

It is conceivable that lawmakers might disregard the proposal. However, Blackstone, which had $360 billion in assets when they purchased SESAC in 2017, has considerable influence on the Hill.

Bart Herbison, the Executive Director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, said, “Blackstone/SESAC waits until July 18 to introduce a proposal that fundamentally would change the way this works. It adds expense, layers of redundancy. It is so troubling and they’ve altered it so dramatically that none of the stakeholders — the songwriters, the music publishers, the record labels, the digital services and others — can now support the legislation.”

BMI has since released the following statement:

“The Music Modernization Act represents an historic opportunity to enact meaningful music licensing reform. The bill is the product of unprecedented collaboration among music stakeholders and passed unanimously through the House Judiciary Committee, the full House, and the Senate Judiciary Committee. BMI is disappointed that at this late stage, the MMA is being endangered by last-minute asks. During the long process of drafting this bill, BMI, like many others, had to compromise on certain provisions in order to achieve a final result that benefits the industry as a whole. We hope that the parties currently in disagreement can work together to resolve their issues, allowing this important piece of legislation to move forward.”