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Senate panel advances music bill endorsed by Smokey Robinson

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Smokey Robinson performs onstage during the 13th Annual Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival at The Hard Rock Stadium on March 17, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Johnny Louis/Sipa USA/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote Thursday a proposal endorsed by a Motown legend. The measure would extend federal protections to songs recorded before 1972. It would also streamline the music licensing process and help streaming music companies head off copyright infringement lawsuits.

Chairman Charles E. Grassley said after the committee markup that he hoped to work out differences of an offset for the music licensing bill and other issues before Senate floor action on the measure. The Iowa Republican said he would work with other supporters to “get it scheduled” on the floor.

The bill by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch has the same text as a music licensing bill sponsored by House Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, which sailed through that chamber unopposed in April.

The Senate proposal would allow digital streaming companies to obtain a blanket so-called mechanical license for the use of all musical works available for compulsory licensing if the company follows certain requirements. A mechanical license allows digital streaming services to provide digital copies or downloads of songs to their customers.

It would establish a nonprofit mechanical licensing collective to engage in various activities related to the payment of royalties, such as the administration of blanket licenses and collection and distribution of royalties from digital music providers for the use of musical compositions.

Sound recordings made between Jan. 1, 1923, and Feb. 15, 1972, are currently covered by a patchwork of state copyright laws, and the measure would provide them with certain federal copyright protections. Musician Smokey Robinson, the writer of classic ‘60s songs such as “My Girl,” made famous by The Temptations, urged the committee last month to compensate musicians for work done before current copyright law took effect in early 1972.

The measure would also standardize existing industry practices for royalty payments to sound producers, sound mixers and sound engineers involved with a sound recording.

The panel approved by unanimous consent a substitute amendment to the music licensing measure that would eliminate an offset that would provide for the permanent rescission of $47 million in unobligated balances for the Justice Department’s Assets Forfeiture Fund.

The offset was opposed by some law enforcement authorities, Hatch said. The Utah Republican said he would work with Grassley “to find an agreeable pay-for before floor action” on the music licensing bill.

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