Update on the Passage of the Music Modernization Act

Idia Egonmwan, a 2L student attorney in the Intellectual Property Clinic at Howard University School of Law.

As many of our membership will recall, earlier this year IIPSJ submitted to Congress both formal comments and also a letter on behalf of intellectual property law and other scholars to support passage of the Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society (CLASSICS) Act and the Music Modernization Act (MMA), and otherwise undertook a public campaign in support of these legislative bills. We are pleased to report that these and other grassroots and other efforts were successful and both acts were passed by Congress on September 18, 2018 (combined into a revised Music Modernization Act) and signed into law by President Trump on October 11, 2018.

Read more here.

What is the Music Modernization Act (MMA)?

The MMA mitigates many of the economic and social inequities perpetuated in the music recording business by creating uniformity in legal protection for pre- and post-1972 sound recordings via the federal copyright system.[1] The MMA is broken into three parts:

  • Title I establishes a musical licensing collective to issue and administer blanket mechanical licenses for the use of sound recordings to digital music services and to and collect and distribute royalty payments directly to rights owners, including performing artists;
  • Title II compensates pre-1972 sound recording artists by creating a royalty structure; and
  • Title III creates a legal right for various musical contributors (producers, mixers, and sound engineering) to collect royalties for digital transmissions of sound recordings.[2]

The IP Social Justice Impact of the MMA

African American and other marginalized creators and artists have historically suffered from legal and social limitations upon their freedom to contract, inequities exacerbated by the systemic manipulation and abuse of the copyright law and music sound recording contracts and licensing agreements. “Legacy” recording artists such as Otis Redding, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and the Temptations were especially disadvantaged in that copyright protection did not extend to pre-1972 sound recording.[3] As a result of the passage of the MMA, composing artists will benefit from more equitable royalty structures under the Copyright Section 115 compulsory mechanical (recording) license (which historically exploited the inferior bargaining power of all artists, but particularly artists of color) (Title I); limited music copyright protection in the form of a digital performance right has been extended to pre-1972 “Legacy” sound recording artists (Title II); and a right for previously uncompensated producers, mixers, and sound engineers to collect royalties for their creative contributions has been established. (Title III).

Fair Compensation and IP Social Justice for Music Creators and Performers

The Music Modernization Act (MMA) is a progressive step for copyright law and the American recording industry, ultimately providing legacy, current, and future musical artists with more equitable compensation for creating, sharing, and performing their work. Utilizing intellectual property as a means of social justice in the music industry is a small subset of how IP law can be used to empower and rebuild marginalized communities. Although not perfect, the MMA represents the outcomes that can be achieved when legal scholars, legislators, and intellectual property and other social justice activists collaborate to preserve the purpose of copyright and other intellectual property law: to promote and encourage socially equitable and beneficial creative labors.

[1] See the Letter from Lateef Mtima, Dir., Institute for Intellectual Property & Social Justice, to Chuck Grassley, Chairman, U.S. S. Comm. on the Judiciary, Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member, U.S. S. Comm. on the Judiciary, Bob Goodlatte, Chairman, U.S. House of Rep. Comm. on the Judiciary, Jerrold Nadler, Ranking Member, U.S. House of Rep. Comm. on the Judiciary (Mar. 14, 2018)

[2] See Mark Wittow, A Modern Melody for the Music Industry: The Music Modernization Act Just Passed Congress and Awaits Presidential Approval, The Nat’l Law Review (Oct. 2, 2018),

[3] Id.