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The NMPA was founded in 1917 as the Music Publishers' Protective Association, seeking to end the practice of publishers having to pay vaudeville theaters for performing their music. The payola was said to have reached $400,000. The MPPA mandate went into effect May 7, 1917. Founding firms included:
In 1966 the name of the Music Publishers' Protective Association was changed to the National Music Publishers Association. The NMPA lobbies federal legislators and regulators on behalf of music publishers and crafted guidelines for the Copyright Act of 1976.
In September 2001, the NMPA reached a settlement with Napster, turning the company into a fee-based service with publishers licensing music to the users. The NMPA won a judgment against peer-to-peer filing service StreamCast Networks in September 2006. In 2007, NMPA joined a lawsuit against YouTube for hosting user-generated videos containing music under copyright. The suit was dropped four years later.
Along with the Music Publishers' Association (MPA), the NMPA has been responsible for taking many free guitar tablature web sites offline. NMPA President David Israelite asserted that "[u]nauthorised use of lyrics and tablature deprives the songwriter of the ability to make a living, and is no different than stealing". The NMPA also pushed for rate hikes for legal downloads of music in 2008.
In 2015, the NMPA sold the Harry Fox Agency to SESAC.
In December 2016, the NMPA announced that it had reached an agreement to with YouTube to allow the distribution of royalties for musical works used in videos on YouTube where ownership was previously unknown.