People who know me well know that I have a passionate appreciation for music [not to be confused with much out there these days that is called “music” but is something else]. Interestingly, some recent bipartisan action by our legislators to address some archaic music licensing practices gave me an idea — maybe there is something we can learn from music that can help us get our polarized, deadlocked government off dead center and actually producing meaningful results for our country. A piece of bipartisan legislation that recently advanced unanimously from the House Judiciary Committee proves that there are at least some things that don’t immediately shoo both Republicans and Democrats into their corners ready to come into the ring swinging when the bell rings to start Round 1.
You read that correctly — I did, in fact, say “bipartisan”. I know that’s a concept that seems to have been completely lost, but it actually happened. This bill — the Music Modernization Act — is on a fast track to becoming law after the House Judiciary Committee, which has been very bitterlydivided by partisan politics, unanimously recommended the legislation. I honestly don’t remember the last time I heard remarks from legislators like these. …
“Let no one say that we cannot in a bipartisan manner musically fix a very important and crucial part of the American economy,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee [D – Texas] said. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries [D-New York] said the bipartisan success shows the nation that “when you bring a coalition of unusual suspects — a conservative [Republican] from rural Georgia and a progressive Democrat from … Brooklyn — things get done.”
And Bart Herbison, executive director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, called the unanimous vote a “historic moment.” “The fact it was unanimous makes me very optimistic it gets through the rest of the procedures,” Herbison said. “We still have a way to go in terms of a full House vote and the Senate. But, look, it’s a great day.”
The legislation aims to improve the ease of licensing a song for streaming services by creating a new nonprofit organization, run by publishers and songwriters, that will now be in charge of identifying rights holders and paying digital royalties.
Compromise Not Just Within The Government
In addition to the bipartisan support the bill gained from lawmakers, it also came together after a series of compromises by music industry stakeholders. Virtually every corner of the music industry supports the bill. Key parts of it are: 1) In exchange for the new licensing system, songwriters and publishers will forfeit some of the ability to sue streaming companies like Spotify and Apple Music for not properly licensing their songs; 2) The standard that the federal rate court uses to set the digital royalty rates for songwriters and publishers is changed to a free market standard; 3) It closes a loophole in federal copyright law that caused artists whose songs were recorded prior to 1972 not to be paid royalties when their music is played over internet radio; and 4) It codifies the existing practice of paying music producers compensation stemming from digital royalties earned by artists.
First Music, Then …
I’d be willing to bet that of the dozens of key bills that would be great for this country if they could become law, most actually could become law if Representatives and Senators would just approach them the way they approached the Music Modernization Act — i.e., first, just look at a bill on its merits [ignoring the party affiliation of its sponsor]; second, find points within it on which there might likely be immediate consensus [surely, there are alwayssome]; third, don’t assume that there is no way consensus can be reached on other points [i.e., focus on finding conceptual approaches to addressing differences rather than immediately jumping into half-hearted efforts to hash out details under pre-programmed party-driven “principles”]; and finally, quit hiding behind procedural rules that always seem to win out [e.g., the filibuster in the Senate, and absolute authoritarian control of the House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader over what even gets to floor votes].
Music is a creative activity. It would be great if some of the creativity that crept into the House Judiciary Committee in the Music Modernization Act deliberations could find its way into all of our legislative chambers.
A Quick Side Note. … The image I chose for this post is the score to Polanaise in A Flat Major, by Frederic Chopin — one of my very favorite pieces of music. It’s hard for me to grasp the sheer genius of a person who could sit down at a piano with a blank sheet of paper and a pen and come up with something like that.
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Charles M. Jones
Note: Much of the content in this post was extracted from two articles in the 4/12/18 edition of the Nashville Tennessean, some paraphrasing and some directly quoting those articles.