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How a new law aimed at streaming music brought the industry and Congress together

Our series Common Ground highlights people who are setting aside partisan differences and solving problems.

Nielsen says 76 percent of music listeners now stream their music. But musicians have not always been paid fairly for digital distribution of their work. Any songs recorded prior to 1972 had zero protection under federal copyright law.

Until now.

In Washington, the Music Modernization Act aims to help by streamlining music licensing and closing a loophole in copyright law so it better fits the digital era. President Trump signed the landmark bill in October 2018, after it passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate.

Former Arizona Senator and CBS News contributor Jeff Flake recently met legendary singer Dionne Warwick to talk about how this new law will transform the music industry and help struggling artists.

"In case you haven't noticed, Congress has been pretty dysfunctional," Flake said. 

"Really?" Warwick laughed.

"And so to have something like the Music Modernization Act embraced by virtually everyone and pass unanimously in the House and the Senate, I can tell from experience, that doesn't happen very often," said Flake.

"Tell me about it. You know how long it took to get it to that point?" replied Warwick.

Last year, Warwick and fellow music legend Smokey Robinson went to Congress in support of the legislation. Robinson testified that this was a "livelihood thing" for musicians. 

"An arbitrary date on the calendar should not be the arbiter of value," he said.

Flake asked Warwick, "How were you able to come together with those who stream music, the labels and everyone? Because they had to all be on board."

"Yeah, it's like pulling hen's teeth. You know, hens don't have teeth!" said Warwick. "If I don't make a record, you can't play it."

"I think the relationship is one of, we both need each other," said David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers Association, which represents all of the music publishers in the United States and their songwriter partners.

Joining him was Garrett Levin, CEO of the Digital Media Association (DiMA), which represents the digital music streaming services Apple Music, Amazon, Google, Spotify and Pandora.

All these parties came to the table in part because of copyright lawsuits.

"Not only were the services getting sued, but songwriters weren't actually getting paid because of longstanding challenges and actually finding the right people who are owed the money," said Levin. "That kind of lose-lose situation is the alchemy that kind of brought everyone to the table to say, 'How do we get to the art of the possible?'"

Israelite has been working to pass the legislation for about 10 years. "I actually think one of the reasons why this happened is because Washington has become such a difficult place to get things done," he said. "Instead of going to Congress and each fighting for our own interest and probably getting nothing, we all understood that the only way we would get legislation is if we could figure it out ourselves and agree."

They agreed to build a licensing system. It simplifies how the streaming services pay songwriters.

Dionne Warwick is thankful for that, and she told Flake she believes the experience may offer a guide to dealing with seemingly intractable issues such as immigration or gun policies.

"Once we all realize that we're human beings, that God put us all here on this Earth to be of service to each other, we've become a nation of I, me, my. What happened to we and us? You know, I think that's what we have to get back to."

Because, as Warwick taught us, that's what friends are for

However, despite its unanimous passage, the Music Modernization Act is facing a challenge in court. Last week, Eminem's publishing company, Eight Mile Style, filed a lawsuit against streaming service Spotify in which they question the constitutionality of the MMA.

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