Trump Signs Music Copyright Bill into Law

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By Kyle Jahner

President Donald Trump signed a music copyright bill into law that will streamline royalty payments to artists from digital streamers like Spotify, among other changes to digital copyright law.

The Hatch-Goodlatte Music Modernization Act (H.R. 1551) creates a new collective to offer blanket rights to digital downloads, ending the need to secure rights from individual copyright holders. It also creates new federal protection for sound recordings made before 1972 and used by digital radio, which were previously governed by a patchwork of state laws.

The law creates legal certainty for streamers facing chronic copyright lawsuits and cements new revenue streams for creators in the increasingly dominant digital music realm.

The legislation generated massive support from artists, record labels and digital music platforms as it passed both the House and Senate unanimously. Various stakeholders raised objections over details in the original bill passed by the House in April, and the Senate tinkered with the bill over the last few months. Stakeholder agreement on the need for smooth royalty payment processes not requiring extensive litigation pushed the bill across the finish line in September without dramatic changes.

The last compromise involved Sirius XM, which had objected to the continued exemption of traditional AM/FM radio from federal protection of sound recording royalties. It also fought to keep its own legacy system for determining royalty rates created in the 1990s, when satellite radio was a nascent business. Sirius agreed to drop its appeal of last year’s 40 percent royalty rate increase in exchange for locking in that new rate until 2027 rather than 2022. It will move to the same market-based rate system governing other digital music platforms in 2027.

Other changes trimmed the new federal protections on sound recordings made between 1923 and 1972. The original bill extended protection to 2067 for all songs in that era. The law protects songs for 95 to 110 years from date of recording, depending on when it was made, and offers a path to protection of noncommercial use by educators, scholars, libraries and archives.

Industry Praise

The music industry had deemed the bill’s passage this year to be critical, noting the potential for continued litigation and lost royalties if a new Congress—minus the bill’s original sponsors—tried to bring the measure back. Senate sponsor Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and House sponsor Robert W. Goodlatte (R-Va.) will retire at the end of the Congress. Lawmakers added their names to the bill title last month before sending the measure to Trump’s desk.

Various industry groups praised the bill’s passage. The MIC Coalition, a group of tech, restaurant and music associations with interests in music licensing, called the bill “the most important piece of music legislation in a generation” in a statement. National Music Publishers’ Association president David Israelite also praised the signing.

“Songwriters have for too long labored without seeing fair rates and receiving all that they deserve, and for the first time in history, the music industry has partnered with the tech industry to fix these systemic problems,” Israelite said in a statement.

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