SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Motown legend Smokey Robinson has grown very familiar with being in front of microphones in his illustrious music career, but his Tuesday testimony before a Senate committee considering a remodel of the music copyright laws may be among his most important performances.

The Music Modernization Act was introduced in the United States Senate last week by Sen. Orrin Hatch and a bipartisan group of supporters. A version of the bill passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives last month.

The Act combines a number of different bills impacting how digital streaming services license music from publishers and how songwriters get paid. In particular it takes aim at a provision in current licensing law that denies digital compensation for pre-1972 performances.


Watch Smokey Robinson’s testimony before Senate committee

“Musicians who recorded before Feb. 15th 1972 deserve to be compensated the same way as those who recorded after that date,” Robinson told the committee. “I know a lot of musicians and producers and writers who have fallen on hard times. Who could really use that money. It’s a livelihood thing, it’s not just about music, it’s about life. So they could really use that money.”

Robinson said he listens to radio all the time, particularly in his car, and realizes who much music is being streamed that falls into the loophole.

“For those of us who are avid radio listeners,” Robinson said. “I listen to the radio all the time…most of the music that is being programmed now or I would say at least 60 percent of it is pre-1972 music.”

“The records of the 1950s and 1960s are called classics because of their age. They are called classics because of their greatness. They still resonate today. They define the American sound.”

Robinson then harkened back to his days with The Miracles, an early pillar of the Motown sound.

“The Miracles was one of the very first acts signed to Motown in 1957,” he said. “We recorded the label’s first million-dollar selling hit ‘Shop Around’ in 1960, ‘Second That Emotion’ in 1967 and ‘Tears Of A Clown’ in 1970. Those happen to be some of the biggest records I have ever been associated with and to not be paid because they were prior to 1972 is ludicrous.”

Giving Robinson support in the gallery were other Motown greats — Mary Wilson, one of the original Supremes, Darlene Love and Dionne Warwick.

But the new law does not cover just the Motown hits. Songs by iconic groups like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others will also be protected.

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