The House of Representatives has passed a recent version of the Music Modernization Act that effects sound recordings on public domains. The new version of the bill consists of several parts, but some are creating more buzz than others. But why? What does the Music Modernization Act accomplish?

Creation of a public domain for sound recording

The current law does not protect sound recordings produced before 1972. In fact, pre-1972 recordings are only meagerly protected by vague and confusing state laws. In fact, most legacy recordings will not be protected by existing laws until 2067, which makes preservation of already rare and fragile media a huge concern.

In addition to advanced age, many older sound recordings exist on devices or mediums that are easily damaged. It is unclear how many great recordings have already been compromised or will be compromised before they are protected under public domain and federal law. The Musical Modernization Act works to replace the confusing state systems and shortens the length of time between production and protection under public domain. Unfortunately, a waiting period is still required before the recordings can be accessed but the timeframe is much more manageable. The earliest recordings may fall under public domain as soon as January of 2022.

The moving of the recordings to public domains will allow the public to use, store, revise, remix, and spread this music without any penalties or need for a license.

Allowing for the non-commercial use of old recordings

The new act will allow potential users to request permission to use the sound recordings in situations where a legal rights holder cannot be located. Anyone who wants to take advantage of this non-commercial use can send a notice to the U.S. Copyright Office. The holders of these rights will then have 90 days to refuse this request. Individuals aspiring to create projects consisting of or containing legacy recordings (like native music, field recordings, or folk music from the beginning of the last century) will now have the chance to make their work available online.  

Artists are fairly compensated for the recordings

The bill also addresses a flaw in royalty payments to artists. Prior to the Music Modernization Act, royalty payments for records produced prior to 1972 were made directly to the label, which then filtered the funds down to the artist in an unclear and often unfair way. The new act will direct services to pay via SoundExchange, a process that will ensure the royalty payments are split equally between label and artist. This is excellent news for artists that were subject to the greedy whims of pre-1972 record labels, as they are now granted the opportunity to benefit from their music just as much as modern entertainers do.