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Grammy Chief Portnow to testify before House Judiciary Committee

Jan 22, 2018

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - As if Grammy Week weren’t already busy enough for Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow, he’s among five witnesses confirmed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about proposed music legislation at a field hearing scheduled Jan. 26 in New York, two days before the 60th Annual Grammy Awards at Madison Square Garden.

Artists Booker T. Jones and Aloe Blacc, Guns N’ Roses producer Mike Clink and country songwriter Tom Douglas are also confirmed for the event, “Music Policy Issues: A Perspective From Those Who Make It,” which will take place at the Fordham University School of Law (at 150 W. 62nd St.) and is open to the public. The meeting will be chaired by Judiciary Committee chief Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) with 15 of the committee’s 23 lawmakers confirmed to attend.

“This hearing is the first step in that process: It’s an opportunity to testify about key provisions,” Recording Academy chief industry, government and member relations officer Daryl Friedman tells Variety. “After that, we come back to Washington and work toward a markup on a comprehensive music bill.”

Lawmakers who have indicated they will attend include judiciary minority leader Jerry Nadler (D-NY); Doug Collins (R-Ga.), author of the Music Modernization Act; Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), who co-authored the MMA; and Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), co-sponsor of the CLASSICS Act. The hearing comes on the heels of last week’s show of industry-wide support for three key pieces of legislation that would theoretically be rolled into a single bill that music rights advocates feel stands a good chance of being passed before Goodlatte retires.

In addition to the sweeping Music Modernization Act (HR 4706) - which would update music licensing law for the first time in 20 years and bring it into the age of streaming - proposed legislation under scrutiny will include the AMP Act (HR 881), to amend federal law to improve royalty payments to producers and engineers, and the CLASSICS Act (HR 3301), which would resolve uncertainty over copyright protections for pre-1972 sound recordings and conform digital royalties for pre- and post-1972 recordings.

Portnow will also likely address the more controversial Fair Play Fair Pay Act (HR 1836) championed by Nadler, Issa and others, that seeks to require terrestrial radio stations compensate recording artists for airplay. Under current law, songwriters are compensated, but not performers. The National Association of Broadcasters strongly opposes the change, but at Goodlatte’s urging reopened negotiations with the music community to try to reach an agreement.

Depending on how quickly talks progress an attempt may be made to incorporate Fair Pay language into a unified bill, but informed observers say it is more likely to be handled separately, so as not to slow momentum on matters that have drawn broad support.

Dina LaPolt, a music attorney and counsel to Songwriters of North America (SONA), which has been active in crafting the music legislation currently being considered, welcomed the hearing and the move toward a unified bill. “This legislation represents a step forward for songwriters in the United States with respect to both income increases and market influence,” LaPolt said, adding she is “really happy about the unprecedented consensus between creator and copyright owner groups along with the Digital Media Association (DiMA) which represents Amazon, Apple, Pandora, Spotify, and YouTube. While it’s not a perfect bill, it’s a great compromise that moves the ball forward on reforming the laws for the benefit of creators, music publishers, performing rights societies and the DSPs.”

The field hearing will take place in Fordham Law’s Costantino Room, beginning at 2 p.m. ET. A representative for the House Judiciary Committee said it may be live streamed at www.judiciary.house.gov as well as on the group’s Facebook page.

Although Congressional ethics rules prevent legislators from accepting tickets to the Grammy Awards, which is an invitation-only event, the Recording Academy and affiliate members have educational events planned for those making the trek from D.C. to New York that week.

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