SALT LAKE CITY — Smokey Robinson told a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday that it's "ludicrous" for digital music services not to pay artists for the songs they play that were made before 1972.
And the 78-year-old music legend also thanked "my fellow songwriter," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, for pushing copyright law reform in the industry. The two shared a hug before the hearing.
"My message is simple,” Robinson told the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Hatch is a member. "Musicians who recorded before Feb. 15, 1972, deserve to be compensated the same way as those who recorded after that date."
Robinson was among several witnesses testifying in support of the Music Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill that would update music licensing and copyright law and reform the way royalties are collected. It unanimously passed the House last month.
Hatch, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said licensing laws for too long have disadvantaged content creators and sowed uncertainty.
"Song-by-song licensing may have worked well enough in the days of the player piano or vinyl record, but in the digital age, where the catalog of a music service like Pandora or Spotify or Amazon or Apple Music runs into the millions of songs, it’s no longer practical," he said.
Hatch said the legislation would ensure that songwriters are compensated fairly for their work and that digital music services are able to operate without constant legal uncertainty.
The retiring 84-year-old senator, who has moonlighted as a songwriter and lyricist for years, attended the Grammy Awards in January.
During the event, his office tweeted, "Senator Orrin Hatch, writer of laws but also songs, enjoying Childish Gambino, Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, and more at the 60th annual Grammy Awards." It followed up with a tweet to #StandWithSongwriters, who Hatch believes are paid far too little for their work.
Robinson testified Tuesday that he knows a lot of musicians, writers and producers who have fallen on hard times.
"It's not just about music. It's about lives, so they could really use that money," he said.
Robinson said some of his biggest recordings with the Miracles, such as "Shop Around" and "I Second That Emotion," were made before 1972, and to not be paid for them is "ludicrous."1 comment on this story
A loophole in the law denies music copyright holders of songs recorded before 1972 the same federal protections as those afforded to copyright holders of music released after that date, he said
Robinson said an arbitrary date on the calendar should not be the arbiter of value.
"The records of the '50s and '60s aren’t called classics because of their age, they’re called classics because of their greatness," he said. "They still resonate today. They define the American sound."