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Artists galore call on SiriusXM to back the Music Modernization Act

By | Published on Tuesday 18 September 2018

US Congress

A stack of artists have put their name to an open letter requesting that the board of SiriusXM owner Liberty Media end the company’s public calls for further amendments to the Music Modernization Act, and instead back the current draft of the copyright reforming legislation.

The letter includes a threat by its signatories that they might boycott the satellite radio company if it continues to oppose the current version of the MMA.

Many of the music industry people and organisations which have led on the drafting and promotion of the MMA have expressed concern in recent weeks that a last minute intervention from Sirius could cause the whole proposed legislation to fall at the final hurdle.

The MMA deals with a number of pressing issues with US copyright law. This includes fixing the mess around how mechanical royalties are paid Stateside. It would also end the infamous pre-1972 quirk with regards online radio and reform the way the US Copyright Royalty Board and rate courts consider what are fair royalties for compulsory and BMI/ASCAP licences.

A long time in the making, the MMA is backed by a plethora of organisations representing artists, songwriters, labels, publishers and digital music platforms, and has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. It was passed in a very speedy fashion by the House Of Representatives. And its industry backers are now hoping the act might get approved by Senate via a fast-track system called hotlining, where it goes through in the absence of any senator objections.

However, last minute lobbying by Sirius could as yet stop that from happening. With that in mind, an open letter signed by artists including Paul McCartney, Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Carole King, Carly Simon and Katy Perry reads: “We are all aware of your company’s objections and trepidation but let me say that this is an opportunity for SiriusXM to take a leadership position”.

The letter goes on: “As you are aware, 415 representatives and 76 senators have already co-sponsored the MMA along with industry consensus. It’s SiriusXM vs all of us. We can either fight to the bitter end or celebrate this victory together. Rather than watch bad press and ill will pile up against SiriusXM, why not come out supporting the most consequential music legislation in 109 years?”

Throwing in a quick threat, the letter adds: “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! Momentum is building against SiriusXM and you still have an opportunity to come out on the right side of history. We look forward to your endorsement but the fire is burning and only you can put this out”.

As the letter went live, music lawyer Dina LaPolt – one of the people behind the MMA – told Variety: “As we continue to move from a product-based business to a service-based business, bringing the antiquated copyright act into the digital realm, SiriusXM’s unwillingness to support songwriters and artists is complete travesty given that every other group in the music industry has endorsed the bill. This shows their disgusting corporate greed at the expense of America’s greatest treasures… our legacy artists”.

That latter remark hones in on the fact that Sirius mainly objects to the pre-1972 element of the MMA, which will confirm that online and satellite radio services – including Sirius – must pay royalties to artists and labels when they play recordings released before 1972. Copyright law complexities have meant many radio services have previously argued no such royalties are due on golden oldies under the current system. Although, following legal action, Sirius has been paying royalties when it plays older recordings in more recent years.

Responding to the open letter, a spokesperson for Sirius told Variety: “Over the past several weeks, we have been the subject of some stinging attacks from the music community and artists regarding our views on the Music Modernization Act. Contrary to new reports and letters, this is really not about a SiriusXM victory, but implementing some simple, reasonable and straightforward amendments to MMA”.

Insisting that “there is nothing in our ‘asks’ that guts the MMA or kills the act”, the spokesperson added: “We truly do not understand the objections or why these concepts have incited such a holy war”. The spokesperson then once again ran through the amendments SiriusXM is seeking, stating the case for each proposed alteration. The arguments provided to Variety yesterday pretty much repeated the op-ed piece Sirius previously wrote for Billboard.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the MMA is indeed hotlined by the Senate. It was thought that could happen yesterday, but there was an issue with the paperwork emailed out to senators. That has now been redistributed and we should know in the next 24-48 hours whether Senate will pass the legislation via the fast-track approval system.