The Music Modernization Act: A Copyright Update for a Digital Age

By: Louis Bonham and James Carlson

The United States Congress has passed the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act of 2018 (“MMA”), which now heads to President Trump for his signature.  The U.S. Senate renamed the bill in honor of retiring Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, the bill’s sponsor and also a fellow songwriter. The bill includes a previous version of the MMA passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, & Important Contributions to Society Act (“CLASSICS Act”). In particular, the CLASSICS Act extends copyright protection to pre-1972 sound recordings.  The MMA also includes the Allocation for Music Producers Act (“AMP Act”) that codifies various practices allowing artists to share royalties with producers and other creative participants that worked on a sound recording.

Other major updates to U.S. copyright law include amending 17 U.S.C. § 115 to eliminate the bulk Notice of Intent requirement for obtaining compulsory licenses.  The MMA bill replaces the Notice of Intent requirement with a Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) that will provide a publicly accessible database for song ownership information.  Moreover, the MMA repeals 17 U.S.C. § 114(i), which will now allow courts to take into account sound recording royalties for determining public performance royalty rates.

The MMA is a major step forward in harmonizing U.S. copyright law for artists, streaming services, and industry professionals in a digital age that the Copyright Acts of 1909 and 1976 could not foresee.