As the U.S. Senate firms up a major decision this week about the Music Modernization Act — a piece of music legislation that was once guaranteed to sail smoothly into law, but has been waylaid by a series of surprising dissents from inside the music industry — a group of more than 150 musicians and songwriters, including Paul McCartney, Katy Perry and John Legend, has banded together to voice their support and criticize the bill’s opponents.
The bill aims to streamline music copyright for the digital streaming era. But the trouble began when satellite radio giant SiriusXM raised objections to parts of the bill that would make it responsible for paying royalties on pre-1972 recordings the same way it does for recordings after that year. SiriusXM claims such a law is unfair, especially given that terrestrial radio stations (i.e. AM/FM channels), its main competitors, are exempt. The company’s protest — saying it “simply cannot” support the bill in its current form — has set off weeks of infighting within the music industry, as supporters of the MMA, which include hundreds of songwriters, executives and music rights advocates, stressed about the bill’s future. On Monday, dozens of hitmakers and artists signed a letter to the board members of SiriusXM’s parent company Liberty Media expressing “grave concern.”
“It’s SiriusXM vs all of us. We can either fight to the bitter end or celebrate this victory together,” says the letter, which has been signed by artists including McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Perry, Pink, Sia, Legend, Alessia Cara, Bebe Rexha, Jason Derulo, Nelly Furtado, Tom Waits, Karen O. “We do not want to fight and boycott your company but we will as we have other opponents. Stand with us! Be brave and take credit for being the heroes who helped the MMA become historic law!”
The satellite radio company is, for the moment, holding firm. “There is nothing in our ‘asks’ that gut the MMA or kills the Act,” SiriusXM responded in an equally sharp letter, adding, “Let’s talk about the substance of the amendments we propose, because we truly do not understand the objections or why these concepts have incited such a holy war,” before summing up the changes it wishes to see in the bill. The MMA was set to enter the Senate’s “hotline” process this week, by which bills can pass with a simple voice vote. But if a single senator dissents, it will have to be slated for formal vote, which will almost certainly delay any progress until next year — or possibly well beyond that.