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Student and professor team up to draft proposal on streaming royalty for musicians — and Rolling Stone takes notice

by Sarah Bello,

Jordyn Wickstrom & Prof. Rohan Grey
Willamette Law 2L Jordyn Wickstrom '24 didn’t picture herself behind the scenes of a Congressional Resolution featured in a Rolling Stone article. But that’s where she ended up this summer, after working as a research assistant for Professor Rohan Grey, a primary drafter of a Congressional Resolution introduced by U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and co-sponsor Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) on August 11, 2022. The resolution proposes a new streaming royalty for musicians, offering payment on a per-stream basis. Although streaming services provide the main avenue for listening to music in 2022, performing musicians are paid very little for their work. 

Wickstrom became interested in helping draft the resolution and subsequent bill after taking Grey’s Contracts class as a 1L and working with him on Oregon public banking legislation. Despite her unfamiliarity with the subject matter, she dove in.

“I didn’t know anything about how music royalties are paid to artists and had to do a lot of research to familiarize myself with copyright law and the royalties artists get for their work,” she said. “I started by drafting a preamble of the resolution and looking into why this was important, comparing with other countries. I also tied in things that have happened that make this a noteworthy issue, such as the COVID pandemic, which caused musicians to earn significantly less.”

In addition, Wickstrom worked on the definition section of the bill, identifying terms like “record company” and “performance rights.” To do so, she read laws already in place to ensure the definitions were consistent with how the terms were used there. 

The pay issue came to the forefront for Tlaib after she partnered with the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers. 

“When we met [with UMAW], it was really clear how efforts to pay musicians fairly for their work tied in to so many different threads of justice we were already working on,” Tlaib said in the Rolling Stone article. “We’ve worked with UMAW and artists to develop this resolution as a consciousness-builder and an organizing tool, to raise awareness amongst not only lawmakers but also just everyday streaming users about how when you listen to a song on Spotify and other platforms, the artist is being paid basically nothing.”

Tlaib says the work “is a step in the direction of” of equitably paying musicians for their art. She introduced the resolution to Congress in mid-August, with the full bill forthcoming. 

Wickstrom isn’t sure of her future career plans as an attorney, but she says the experience was valuable. She learned the differences between a resolution and a bill and says the drafting skills are transferable to her work with the public banking working group. She appreciates that Grey, as a professor, always tries to ensure his students have experiential learning opportunities. 

For his part, Grey, who has helped draft various other legislative initiatives in collaboration with Tlaib and other members of Congress, was thrilled with Wickstrom’s work.

“Jordyn is talented, driven and always up for a challenge,” Grey explained. “She assisted both with research and statutory language, and participated in strategy meetings with the Union’s campaign team and Congressional staff. She was fantastic, and some of her original text is in the final draft.”

In the short term, the resolution is making its way through Congress while Tlaib and Bowman look for additional co-sponsors to sign onto it. The full text of the bill is also being finalized in collaboration with legislative counsel. 

Wickstrom and Grey will continue to assist with the legislative drafting process and anticipate the release of the full bill later this year.

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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