The following MBW op/ed comes from David Israelite – the President and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA). Founded in 1917, NMPA is the trade association representing all American music publishers and their songwriting partners. Israelite (pictured) is directly responding to a piece which appeared online over at Billboard last week from the boss of SiriusX, Jim Meyer.
SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer recently tried to make a case in Billboard against the Music Modernization Act (MMA) – a bill which will help countless songwriters, artists, and producers. Make no mistake, his motivations are not about public policy, they are an effort to protect his company’s sweetheart deal from decades ago which allows SiriusXM to pay artists lower rates and exempts it from paying any artist who released work before an arbitrary date.
I give Mr. Meyer credit for writing a treatise against providing fairness for music creators in a magazine dedicated to celebrating them. However, his attempts to misdirect readers regarding the MMA must be addressed.
The MMA exemplifies unprecedented compromise and promise for helping fix some of the most egregious problems in the music industry. It is not perfect – it is a consensus bill that gives digital services and music creators a better landscape for creating and offering music to consumers.
It does not tilt the scales for any one party – instead it stops the scales from being tilted in favor of certain platforms and against certain creators.
The bill improves how songwriters are paid by streaming companies, and the formula for determining their rates.
The AMP (Allocation for Music Producers) Act portion of the bill ensures producers and engineers are paid for their work, and the CLASSICS (Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, & Important Contributions to Society) Act section fixes a loophole in copyright law that prevents performing artists who released work before 1972 from being paid by digital radio.
Additionally, it ensures the rates paid by two companies – SiriusXM and Music Choice – reflect what a willing buyer – willing seller would produce, aligning what they pay with that of other streaming platforms.
“MR. MEYER SAYS THAT BROADCAST RADIO SHOULD PAY ARTISTS AS WELL – AND HE’S CORRECT – BUT TO USE THIS AS AN EXCUSE FOR SIRIUSXM TO NOT HAVE TO PAY ARTISTS A FAIR RATE IS A RED HERRING.”
These improvements are significant – in fact they are the biggest step forward in a generation – but this does not mean there isn’t still unfairness in the music industry.
Mr. Meyer says that broadcast radio should pay artists as well – and he’s correct – but to use this as an excuse for SiriusXM to not have to pay artists a fair rate is a red herring.
How ironic to say it’s wrong for terrestrial radio to avoid paying artists royalties, yet because of this his company should not have to pay fair royalties either.
Congress decided in 1995 to make digital radio pay royalties to record labels and artists but did not apply that law to AM/FM radio, and the MMA does not attempt to re-litigate that decision as it would guarantee insurmountable opposition from entrenched groups that have been fighting over this issue for decades. Mr. Meyer is simply using this issue to distract from the fact that he is opposed to SiriusXM paying its fair share.
What exactly is Mr. Meyer protecting by opposing the MMA?
Twenty-three years ago it was determined that digital radio services would pay royalties, but a few services would enjoy an extraordinary deal to ease the transition on existing companies. Today, after their self-proclaimed billion dollar profits and massive merger, Mr. Meyer is now claiming their sweetheart below-market rate standard needs to continue, again, because if other companies pay less, then so should they.
“THE REALITY IS THAT SIRIUSXM’S GRANDFATHERED SPECIAL TREATMENT IS WHAT HAS FAILED CREATORS.”
As journalist Rob Levine recently wrote, “There’s no logical reason why companies that were already around at a certain time enjoy a different standard, which almost always results in a lower rate. It was a matter of influence.”
Today, rates paid by other digital platforms like internet radio are set under Section 114 of the Copyright Act using a willing buyer – willing seller standard to determine value. Much like a Performance Rights Organization (PRO), SoundExchange collects and distributes royalties to labels and artists.
Mr. Meyer gives no justification as to why this is “unsustainable” and claims the willing buyer – willing seller rate standard is a failed experiment. The reality is that SiriusXM’s grandfathered special treatment is what has failed creators.
Ultimately, the fact that there are other wrongs in the industry that must still be righted is not an argument against MMA, unless your goal is to confuse and conflate two separate issues in an effort to kill the bill.
Right now the stakes are higher than ever. The MMA has passed the House of Representatives 415 – 0 and has over 60 Senate cosponsors. Obstacles such as Senator Wyden’s anti-creator “ACCESS to Recordings Act” remain, but Mr. Meyer’s opinion piece is a last ditch attempt to derail the progress thus far.
SiriusXM has gone to Senators behind the scenes, not in an attempt to “address our specific concerns with certain MMA language” but to convince specific lawmakers to oppose the bill altogether and prevent it from getting a vote by the full Senate – the last significant hurdle to MMA becoming law.
“MR. MEYER MENTIONS THE GREAT ARETHA FRANKLIN, YET SIRIUSXM’S MAIN TARGET IS THE PROVISION OF THE MMA THAT WOULD HAVE GIVEN RESPECT AND FAIR RATES AND ROYALTIES TO HER AND OTHER LEGACY ARTISTS.”
So far this process has been lengthy and messy, but creators are the ones who have rallied to get the bill where it is today. Those creators should know who their friends are, and know who is both building a billion dollar business on their work while fighting against them.
Mr. Meyer mentions the great Aretha Franklin, yet SiriusXM’s main target is the provision of the MMA that would have given RESPECT and fair rates and royalties to her and other legacy artists.
It’s time to get serious about making sure the MMA passes the Senate before November and isn’t derailed by special interests looking to protect an outdated system that devalues creators.Music Business Worldwide