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Attention: MFM’s President Official Statement Reg. the Music Modernization Act (MMA)

Since February – as the President of MFM and a 24/7 professional musician – I’ve been doing my “homework” reg. the Music Modernization Act (MMA). I’ve been talking about this bill to people from the music industry, musician advocacy organizations, my union, professional musicians around me and music activists. Trying to get an understanding of this complex and essential bill, which has a long history.

It is clear that the MMA is a very important piece of legislation intended to benefit the music community, especially song writers/composers and music publishers. Honestly, I didn’t try to read the 100 plus pages of the latest version of the bill due to time limitation and not being a native speaker. So I left that to the experts around me pointing me out to the pro and cons.

In MFM’s previous two meetings we discussed this bill with all in attendance; and Ken Hatfield (MFM’s advisory Committee member) did a superb and in-depth job introducing this bill to the attending musicians.

Delving in to the details of MMA and the process involved in its creation and evolution has been a real eye opener for me…… I’ve learned a lot:

Firstly, I learned from it that music and business REALLY do go hand in hand. Confirming MFM’s slogan #MakingMusicIsAProfession. It made me understand how and why musicians have been exploited for so many years by our “so called” “employers” and how the public has become increasingly complicit in this.

Our exploitation has been going on for far too long to recount here. As pertains to recent history, the biggest exploitation started with the birth of the Internet, which changed the paradigms of music business. In order to create profitable business models the DSPs (Digital Service Providers) took advantage of safe harbor provisions (like the infamous 512 section of the DMCA) that limited their liability for illegal uses (perpetrated by those using their platforms…making the DSPs not “directly” responsible) of copyrighted materials (like our music) to build market share. The DSPs did this by promoting and profiting from illegal file-sharing to start with. They then collected and monetized the data of all their “users” that participated in what were illegal activities. This led to the abuses perpetrated by the supposedly “legal streaming services”…uses which MMA is intended to address.

This whole line of indentured servitude foisted on musicians was sold under the misleading banner of “information wants to be free” a nonsense phrase (selectively excerpted from what its author Stewart Brand actually said) and frequently used to justify access to copyrighted material…for FREE (though the platforms providing access were and are profiting from advertising and data mining connected to our content)…resulting in wholesale exploitation of all content creators especially the music workers.

The public blindly went along with it, because they only saw the short sighted advantage of getting stuff for free! Many musicians went along too, becoming willing victims of this digital eco system of serfdom by providing their (copyrighted) music for free via downloading and streaming. Why? Because they believed in the illusive value of the “free” exposure they would get out of it. In fact, this exposure proved to be of limited value to some indie musicians, but the majority of musicians didn’t achieve anything! Even major artists received far less under this new digital paradigm then previously paid under the old system.

Just look at the rates being paid. The current statutory compulsory rate is 9.1 cents per use (this is the rate intended for “phono records”…as stated in the NOIs that streamers routinely use to notify copyright owners that their music is being used), but streamers like Spotify only pay rates .0014 cents per use! Clearly a misuse of the compulsory license law’s intention!

Secondly, with the MMA issue I found an important topic to start a discussion with the MFM Board and MFM members. The MMA issue was “the common cause” I needed as an example to demonstrate MFM’s mission which wants to empower the fragmented community of professional musicians through common cause.

It helped me to bring musicians to our meetings and forums. (Some of them joined MFM later.) Respected professional musicians, such as Billy Harper and Ken Hatfield joined the MFM board and advisory community. Speaking of Billy Harper: since November he’s been running (with me) the monthly musician meetings on the Upper West Side. Because of him other respected musicians, such as Jimmy Owens, Michelle Shocked, Joe Lovano, Stanley Banks, Cynthia Scott, Ricky Ford, Robby K attended our meetings.

MMA was discussed in following occasions:

Thirdly, due to the MMA I had the chance to reach out to other musician organizations, music schools, local politicians and Local 802. Improve MFM’s presence on social media and get musicians outside of MFM interested in MFM, especially those who don’t believe in organizing.

All this said what is MFM’s stand position regarding MMA? Is it endorsing this bill?

As Dawoud wrote: “from legislative perspective this bill is important because 1. It is a bill that consolidates many of the best provisions of its predecessors into one bill, such as CASE and FAIR PLAY FAIR PAY ACT and 2. It has substantial support from the major players in the music community.”

The pros include the fact that digital service providers (DSPs), such as iTunes, Spotify, Pandora etc. have finally agreed that they will pay for every play/stream/broadcast use of music (identified and unidentified). This money will go to the music community and no longer stay with the DSPs (under the issuance of Notice Of Intent to seek a compulsory license to make phono records a.k.a. NOIs …which essentially result in delaying or not paying mechanical royalties). This money will be distributed by a Collective which will be under the Library of Congress who will grant it a charter of 5 years duration.

This Collective will not only distribute the money to writers and publishers, but it will also create and/or oversee the creation of a data base that all the DSP’s will rely on to identify and pay accordingly for any and all of the music that the DSPs play/stream broadcast etc. or otherwise use to generate revenue for their business.

The cons include the fact that the aforementioned collective as presently configured will be comprised of 10 publisher members and only 4 composer/writer members (and the publishers want to choose these four writer members). There is little or no transparency for independent self-published writers /composers regarding the right to audit the Collective. This right of audit is limited to the Big Publishers (which means that Sony and Universal will not only have the lions share of board members on the collective, but will be the only ones that can audit the Collective’s disbursements of the money they receive from the DSP’s). This configuration of the Collective is clearly unfair in light of the law which requires writers and publishers to spilt all these revenues 50-50 i.e. 50% to each!

The content of this bill is still “evolving”, although the MMA was unanimously voted out of the House Judiciary Committee April 11, 2018. I agree with Ken’s statement: “The music community will need to decide individually and collectively if we can live with the basic procedural intent of MMA while working to fix the issues we have with it before it is voted on by Congress.” So there’s still some time for the experts such as MusicAnswers, C3, the AFM, activists, such as Maria Schneider, David Lowery and many others to make changes before the Congress votes on it. But the time we have is dwindling away so we cannot wait indefinitely!

Due to the complexity of this bill I and MFM are still not able to participate in making meaningful corrections and come with good advice. On the contrary, MFM leaves that to the experts we trust. But MFM will support and endorse any decision done by the musician community. We believe that ONLY unity and solidarity among musicians and their reps will improve this bill. There are many in the music community that believe that MMA is overall an improvement for song-writer/composers and publishers. Though more so for the established than the fledgling indie artists. But, because there are mechanisms within the bill for future improvements, MFM wants this bill passed and signed by the President in the near future.

Attention: in order not to kill this bill, no MFM member can speak for MFM regarding any official MFM position on MMA. Of course all of MFM’s members may freely speak their minds as individual members of the music community and even members of MFM. But these are their personal views…not views sanctioned or advocated by MFM! Whatever he or she thinks, believes and claims are personal…and should be clearly stated as such…regarding MMA.  Again: the bill is too complex, it is clear that the majority of our members (including myself) are not able to grasp all the content of this bill…and given that it just made it through mark-ups (on Tuesday 04-10-18) most congressional representatives are also unlikely to be able to address it in its entirety! So for this one MFM needs to observe and learn to prepare us for future actions!

In solidarity and music,

Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi (MFM’s President) – 4/17/2018