Joined by Smokey Robinson, Hatch pushes for music copyright reform

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, embraces Smokey Robinson, a 78-year-old rhythm and blues singer, at a judiciary committee, in Washington, D.C., May 15, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Orrin Hatch's Twitter, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is spending his last months as a legislator to push for copyright reform in the music industry. And he was joined by music legend Smokey Robinson Tuesday in his effort.

Smokey Robinson, a 78-year-old rhythm and blues singer, testifies about his support of an act to ensure musicians are properly paid for their song royalties to a judiciary committee, of which Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is a part of, Washington, D.C., May 15, 2018 | Photo courtesy of senate.gov, St. George News

The bipartisan Music Modernization Act is a package of bills that would create a new and simplified licensing system to make it easier for songwriters to obtain a license for their music.

It’ll also create a new organization of publishers and songwriters to ensure music copyright owners are being paid royalties that reflect a fair market rate.

Eleven other legislators, including Democrats and Republicans, have signed their name to the act.

While the Music Modernization Act may allow songwriters to receive a fairer compensation for their music being streamed online, it likely won’t affect the average music consumer; it will affect the amount of money spent on royalties by satellite radio and streaming giants like Pandora and Spotify.

The act does nothing to address the estimated 57 million Americans who illegally download music each year.

Speaking at a judiciary hearing Tuesday, Hatch said he wants to guarantee singers and songwriters are fairly paid for their songs that are played on satellite and internet radio.

“As a songwriter myself, I have a particular interest in ensuring we have fair, well-functioning music licensing laws,” Hatch said. “Song-by-song licensing may have worked well enough in the days of the player piano or vinyl record, but in the digital age, where the catalog of a music service like Pandora or Spotify or Amazon or Apple Music runs into the millions of songs.”

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The act will also allow songwriters to be be paid when their songs that were released before 1972 are played on satellite and internet radio. Royalties are currently not required for songs written before 1972 because on Feb. 15, 1972, Congress gave copyright protections for all sound recordings from that date forward.

Smokey Robinson, a 78-year-old rhythm and blues singer who fronted the vocal group called The Miracles between 1955 and 1972, joined Hatch at the judiciary hearing to speak about the Music Modernization Act. Robinson said musicians who recorded music before 1972 deserve to be compensated the same way those who recorded after that year are compensated.

“People are going to be creating music forever and those who created music in the past should not be not compensated for their works because it was prior to 1972,” Robinson said.

Robinson said internet music streaming companies use the license to stream his music 50,000 times each day, but because most of his music was recorded before 1972, he’s not seeing a cent of compensation for it. While Robinson said he has been blessed to continue to make a living performing his music live, others have not been so fortunate.

“I know a lot of musicians and producers and writers who have fallen on hard times and could really use that money,” Robinson said. “It’s not just about music; it’s about lives.”

The act is ultimately about bringing music copyright laws into the 21st century, Hatch said.

“For far too long, our old-fashioned, disorganized way of collecting and distributing music royalties has resulted in songwriters and other content creators being paid far too little for their work,” Hatch said.

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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