Alexander and Hatch Perform and Pitch New Music Royalty Structure

Alexander hopes bipartisan effort can pass by August

Sen Orrin G. Hatch is a songwriter who collects royalties. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen Orrin G. Hatch is a songwriter who collects royalties. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 25, 2018 at 11:00am

They may not be the singing senators, but two powerful, musically inclined Republican lawmakers are leading a bipartisan effort to update the way composers and songwriters get paid when their music is played on the internet.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, himself an accomplished pianist, is optimistic that an effort he says would pay songwriters what they deserve will be through the Senate before the August recess. The move would be a boon to many in the Tennessee Republican’s home state.

“The best place to go in Nashville is the Bluebird Cafe, where three songwriters sit and each play four of their songs,” Alexander said. “You instantly know every song they play, buy you’ve never heard their names before.”

Alexander teamed up with Sen. Orrin G. Hatch. The Utah Republican, in addition to being a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee (which has jurisdiction), is a songwriter who collects royalty checks when his work is played, including “My God Is Love.”

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Hatch and Alexander recorded a video, featuring Alexander playing selections from Hatch’s work on a piano in the ornate president pro tempore’s office on the first floor of the Capitol.

Alexander said in a Roll Call interview that supporters worked for a year to get a variety of stakeholders, including operators of streaming services like Amazon Music and Pandora, on the same page as composers.

“There’s an ingenious new organization in this bill which would make it easier for the digital companies like Pandora to get a blanket license for a song. All they’ve got to do is notify the entity that they’re going to play the ‘Tennessee Waltz,’ and they don’t have to do anything else,” Alexander explained. “Then the entity collects the royalties … finds the songwriter and pays it to them.”

The bill would direct the Copyright Royalty Board to boost compensation to fair market values for royalties for songs sold on the internet. It would also set up a new system for licensing when songs are played through streaming services.

“The Music Modernization Act will streamline and update our licensing laws to ensure that streaming services and other digital music providers are able to obtain the licenses they need while simultaneously making sure that songwriters are paid a fair market value for their work,” Hatch said in a statement. “This is a consensus piece of legislation that brings together all sides of the music industry, and I intend to work my hardest to see it enacted in the near future.”

Among the Democratic members joining Alexander and Hatch in the effort is Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, also of the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s no secret that music is enjoyed much differently today than when I was growing up. Records and record players now serve as decoration as opposed to the way to listen to your favorite Muddy Waters album in the comfort of your own home,” Durbin said in a statement. “But music licensing laws have not kept up in the age of streaming and downloading, and this has been a problem for music creators and consumers alike.”

The Senate bill is a companion to a recently introduced House measure from Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York.

It should be no surprise that Sen. Bob Corker would also be among the bill’s supporters, joining his Tennessee colleague, given the scale of the music business in the Volunteer State.

“Songwriters in Nashville are like wine in the Napa Valley in California,” Alexander said in the interview. “It’s not the biggest part of the economy, but it’s the signature part of the economy.”