Mayday, Mayday - Calling All Songwriters!

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Roll up your sleeves. Take a deep breath. This isn’t a drill. 

Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard of the MMA —The Music Modernization Act—the copyright reform legislation so desperately needed by songwriters. It’s the one we’ve been fighting for for years. Well, it’s being blocked by SESAC. That's right, the PRO SESAC.

Not a fun topic. I know. But don’t you dare click on something else. 

Here’s what’s going on: 

If passed, essentially, songwriters would get a raise. SONA (Songwriters Of North America), my grassroots advocacy organization, has had a voice at the table from the birth of the bill. We’ve negotiated, compromised and clarified. Thankfully, it passed 415-0 in the House and then unanimously in a Senate Judiciary Committee vote in June. 

 We were almost ready to party. 

Just when we’re in the final stretch when the full Senate will cast its vote, SESAC has been pushing an amendment that would harm songwriters. We wouldn’t be able to stand behind it any more. And if the bill doesn’t pass it would be devastating for us. Who knows how long it would take to get another piece of legislation back to this point?  Maybe never.  

Are you wondering why SESAC is doing this? Well, SESAC is owned by a private investment group called the Blackstone Group. The Blackstone Group also owns the Harry Fox Agency, a mechanical licensing agency. One of the primary principles of the MMA is that it creates a Mechanical Licensing Collective (the MLC) to issue blanket licenses to the Digital Service Providers, match the licensed works with their owners (rightsholders), and collect and distribute payments from those DSP’s to the proper owners.  

The MLC would operate at no cost to songwriters, with greater transparency and with songwriters on its governing board.

Negotiations have been going on for two years, and while ASCAP and BMI have participated, SESAC has stayed out of it. Everyone was aware of their potential underlying conflict because of Harry Fox, but SESAC always affirmed “this is good for songwriters.” And we believed, that like everyone else in the mechanical licensing business, HFA would ultimately compete to become a vendor of the MLC.  

But now at the last minute they are trying to force an amendment, and throwing around loaded terms like "the free market" and "government controlled," and the “collective.” In their amendment proposal, they describe the MLC as “a single, European-style government regulated monopoly…antithetical to the free market.” Which is not true.

 If they succeed in attaching their amendment, the MLC governing board will have nothing to govern. It practically mandates that the Harry Fox Agency take the place of the MLC, BUT without any of the oversight and accountability that we all fought so hard for. 

 Our friends at SESAC can’t possibly feel good about this. Their parent company is trying to protect an investment to the detriment of the entire music business ecosystem. Two weeks ago, Blackstone went from Senate office to Senate office, attempting to turn senators away from the bill one-by-one.  

 They are trying to make this political. It’s not political. 

 The good news is that ALL of the stakeholders are strongly united in their opposition to the SESAC Amendment. It would mean doubling down on the current broken system, with less transparency less control, no oversight or audit rights. After all of our hard work, out-of-pocket money spent getting to DC and time, we, songwriters would have to walk away from a bill meant to help us.  

The ONLY recourse we have is to GET ENGAGED. Immedietely!

 Here’s what you can do: 

 1) If you are a SESAC writer – please contact your favorite rep and copy John Josephson (CEO) and anyone on the executive team and ask them not to do this! Tell them how important the passage of the MMA as it is currently drafted would be to your day-to-day survival as a songwriter, how it will mean a raise and how there is FINALLY unprecedented consensus around legislation that would fix a deeply broken system. Ask them is SESAC really want to go down in history as the outlier who wouldn’t allow it to get fixed? 

 2) If you are a pro-songwriter in ANY Performance Rights Organization (SESAC, ASCAP, BMI, GMR, PRS, etc), please help us bring what SESAC is doing out into the open – tweet @sesac with any creative hashtag. (We’ve been using #SESACkillstheMMA) 

 Thank you. Thank yourselves. 

 Why are you still sitting there? Get Busy! 

 PS. Because the subject of this blog is bigger than my bandwidth was designed for, and to spare you confusion, I had a lot of help from my fellow more wonky SONA Steering Committee members. :) Thx guys!

Shelley Peiken, SONA Executive Committee

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