The Music Modernization Act, which is scheduled for a full Senate vote over the next 24 hours, is supported by the music industry because it brings music copyright and compensation into the digital age. But SiriusXM is working to scuttle key MMA provisions, and artist advocates the musicFIRST Coalition are fighting back.
"Artists are not laughing as SiriusXM works to undermine the most transformational piece of music legislation in a generation to avoid compensating them fairly"
By Chris Israel, Executive Director of the musicFIRST Coalition
SiriusXM is mounting a lonely campaign against the Music Modernization Act (MMA), saying that because AM/FM radio doesn’t pay artists fairly, neither should they.
SiriusXM is right on one thing: it is absurd and insulting that terrestrial AM/FM radio does not compensate artists for playing their recordings when every other music platform does. One major fundamental injustice to music creators, however, cannot be used to justify others.
SiriusXM’s General Counsel Patrick Donnelly recently tried to defend their opposition to the MMA and explain their motives. But after the MMA passed with 415 votes in the House, has amassed 75 cosponsors in the Senate and is supported by literally every part of the U.S. music community, SiriusXM’s motives are crystal clear – they just like the current system better. And why wouldn’t they? The status quo has allowed SiriusXM to shortchange legacy artists and it has provided a statutorily-discounted rate structure for more than 20 years. That is a lot to give up. Mr. Donnelly calls the music industry a “funny business.” We can assure him that artists are not laughing as SiriusXM works to undermine the most transformational piece of music legislation in a generation to avoid compensating them fairly.
The CLASSICS Act contained within the MMA will establish a permanent and fair framework to ensure pre-72 artists and their families are fairly compensated. SiriusXM does currently provide compensation for these works, but this only came after they were sued by multiple artists in multiple states for not paying royalties on these works for years. In addition, their current agreement is not permanent, so there is no guarantee that they will continue to pay for the works that drive some of their most popular stations.
SiriusXM claims to be concerned that pre-72 artists will not be paid under the terms of the MMA. Their newfound concern is welcome, however given their track record of doing everything they can to avoid paying these artists at all, it rings hollow. Removing the CLASSICS Act from the MMA is a non-starter and would be a final insult to a great generation of American artists who have waited long enough.
The MMA also would apply a market-based rate standard to SiriusXM. They, of course, oppose this too. The 801(b) standard that currently applies to SiriusXM and two other companies is a statutorily-guaranteed discount to protect them from “disruption.” All the MMA would do is apply the same market-based rate standard to SiriusXM that every other digital radio service uses. After over 20 years of this sweetheart deal, we simply don’t think SiriusXM needs to be protected from “disruption” any more.
Finally, we can assure SiriusXM that the music community has in no way stopped fighting for a terrestrial radio performance right, contrary to what Mr. Donnelly implies. Members of the musicFIRST Coalition are in active negotiations with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to try to achieve this goal. The music environment is changing fast and terrestrial radio needs to find its place and define its future. We believe this must be done in conjunction with music creators, and this in turn means radio will have to finally accept compensating artists as equals and partners. Music creators have been fighting for a terrestrial performance right since long before Sirius or XM even existed, and this effort will continue directly with the NAB and on Capitol Hill. We would welcome SiriusXM to actively join us in the fight.
We believe the MMA will become law and it will benefit thousands of music creators for years to come. It will also create a more effective and efficient legal framework for digital music services that respect artists’ ability to grow and thrive. There will certainly be other fights to come, but the movement behind the MMA has been amazing to witness as it has brought together a passionate army of music creators, technology leaders, legislators and fans. It’s time for SiriusXM to abandon its lonely crusade and stand with the entire industry and a nearly unanimous Congress in support of MMA.