Copyright Jumps the Shark: The Music Modernization Act

31 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2019

Date Written: August 31, 2019


The Music Modernization Act (“MMA”) codifies a host of compromises and licensing arrangements worked out among music publishers, record labels, and digital music services. It adds an extremely voluminous, complex, and detailed licensing regime for mechanical copies of musical works that is of particular importance to digital music services and music publishers. Promoted as a way to reduce transaction costs, the blanket license facilitates the use of all musical works, even those works whose copyright owners cannot be located. The MMA also brings pre-1972 sound recordings into the federal copyright regime, and importantly subjects those sound recordings to the statutory licensing available under the Copyright Act. These innovations will aid the current state of rights surrounding digital music streaming services.

However, despite being promoted as a way to bring more equal treatment to the industry, in many ways the MMA increases the disparity in treatment between musical work copyright owners and sound recording copyright owners. While ultimately the royalties received by those two groups of copyright owners will likely become more similar, the way the MMA achieves that result is not through an equal treatment of the different copyrights. Additionally, while owners of pre-1972 sound recording rights will now have federal statutory rights that are similar to those enjoyed by owners of post-1972 sound recordings copyrights, in many ways the artists that created those different works are treated quite differently.

A special thank you to Professor Wendy Gordon, whose lifelong dedication to the field of copyright law has enriched the field for decades, and in whose honor this symposium issue of the Boston University Law Review is dedicated. Revisiting her body of work provided a variety of lenses that have helped organize the analysis of the MMA presented in this Article.

Keywords: Copyright, Music, Music Modernization Act, Streaming

JEL Classification: O34, K20

Suggested Citation

Loren, Lydia Pallas, Copyright Jumps the Shark: The Music Modernization Act (August 31, 2019). Boston University Law Review, Vol. 99, 2019. Available at SSRN:

Lydia Pallas Loren (Contact Author)

Lewis & Clark Law School ( email )

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