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Music Modernization Act Passes: What Musicians Should Know

sheet music sitting on piano keys
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 20, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A "music industry peace treaty;" a "rare moment of bipartisan and trans-industry harmony;" a "significant step forward for music consumers and fans." The Music Modernization Act has been called a lot of things. But, now that the Senate has finally passed the copyright bill, what will it actually mean in real world terms for songwriters and musicians?

Here's what you need to know.

Reeling in the Years

Until now, music copyright laws have been a convoluted mixture of state and federal laws, and the amount of protection you could receive for your work could depend on what state you were in and whether the work was published before or after 1972. The Music Modernization Act will streamline the process for both online licensing and royalty payments to artists. And the Act would allow for more noncommercial use by educators, scholars, libraries, and archives, as long as the copyright owner does not object.

The bill also updates the copyright protections for pre-1972 works:

  • Works published before 1923 would have their copyrights expire three years after the legislation is passed;
  • Works published between 1923 and 1946 would get the normal 95-year copyright term;
  • Works published between 1947 and 1956 would get a total of 110 years of protection; and
  • Works published between 1957 and 1972 would have their copyrights expire in 2067.

Grab a Piece of Something

The Music Modernization Act also establishes a new organization called the Mechanical Licensing Collective that will create and maintain a public database containing all relevant information on songwriters' work. Digital music providers will foot the bill for creation and operation of the database, and will then use it to pay songwriters accordingly.

The will also be updates the pricing policies for Copyright Royalty Board, a three-judge panel that sets some royalty rates. The Board will now be allowed to consider a song's value on the open market when setting those fees, which could mean more money for songwriters in the long run.

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