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US Senate votes to ensure royalties for older songs

The passage came despite objections by leading satellite broadcaster SiriusXM, which prompted a boycott threat of the platform by top names in music including Paul McCartney (AFP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Washington (AFP) - The US Senate voted Tuesday to guarantee royalties for digital broadcast of songs from before 1972, in a rare bipartisan effort seen as one of the biggest shakeups ever of how musicians are compensated.

The bill unanimously passed the Senate after approval in April in the House of Representatives, virtually ensuring it will become law once the two chambers sort out differences.

The passage came despite objections by leading satellite broadcaster SiriusXM, which prompted a boycott threat of the platform by top names in music including Paul McCartney and Katy Perry.

The Music Modernization Act most notably will ensure that streaming and other digital services compensate musicians for songs penned before 1972, when current copyright law took effect.

Until now, artists had no right to payouts if digital broadcasters played songs from before 1972.

The reform will also let producers and engineers seek royalties from songs on which they worked, after they previously lacked legal recourse.

"As a songwriter myself, I know firsthand how inefficient the current music marketplace is," said Senator Orrin Hatch, a musician who has written songs related to his Mormon faith and who spearheaded the law.

The act "will benefit all artists who make music such a rich, vibrant and meaningful part of American life," the Utah Republican said in a statement.

SiriusXM sought reforms to the act, raising concerns about the nature of the pre-1972 compensation as well as a change that would get rid of longstanding royalty standards and let songwriters seek payment levels on an open market.

The broadcaster argued that the reform would create a bigger gap with traditional terrestrial radio stations, which have looser requirements for paying royalties.

SiriusXM was countered by an unusually heavy-hitting group of songwriters including McCartney, Perry, Stevie Nicks and Tom Waits who threatened to pull music off the satellite service.

"Rather than watch bad press and ill will pile up against SiriusXM, why not come out supporting the most consequential music legislation in 109 years?" they wrote in a letter published on music site Variety.