Radio broadcasters could be coughing up some big dough for performers and artists if legislation re-introduced in the House and Senate Wednesday (Feb. 4) becomes law. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) offered The Performance Rights Act, a bipartisan effort that would give the Library of Congress’ Copyright Office authority to set a fee schedule for broadcasters to pay performers for broadcasting their recorded works over terrestrial radio.
Conyers’ committee said that the legislation would “amend an inequity in America’s copyright law that exempts over-the-air broadcasters from paying those who perform the music that we listen to on AM and FM radio. Webcasters, satellite radio providers and cable companies are presently required to pay for music they broadcast.”
Both congressmen have been very vocal in their support for the measure which made notable headway during the last session of Congress, but was sidelined by the fall political campaigns and the national economic free-fall after a flurry of congressional activity last spring and summer.
“All those in the creative chain of musical production — the artists, musicians and others who enrich us culturally — deserve to be justly compensated for their work,” said Conyers. “We have introduced the Performance Rights Act to ensure fairness so that any service that plays music pays those who create and own the recordings — just as satellite, cable and Internet radio stations currently do. Working with the Senate, I hope that Congress may act quickly to pass this important legislation to level the playing field between different technologies and ensure rightful compensation to performers.”
“Beyond the fairness that this bill provides for performers, we have an opportunity to show the rest of the world that the United States practices what it preaches in protecting intellectual property,” Issa added in a prepared statement. “For the past 70 years Congress has ignored the constitutional mandate that we protect copyrights by completely exempting broadcasters from paying performers, while the vast majority of countries have no such exemption. Our ignorance of intellectual property rights on this issue is a worldwide embarrassment and it must end now.”
The bill, which provides fee discounts and exemptions for small radio operators and non-profit and religious programmers, is also sponsored by Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), Anthony Weiner, (D-N.Y.), Stephen Cohen (D-Tenn.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), and Jane Harman (D-Calif.).
Companion legislation was introduced Wednesday in the Senate by Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and former chairman senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Also signing on were Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Reintroduction of the measure has long been expected and planned on by musicFirst, the lead artist and performers lobbying group in Washington that has, in recent years, lead the 80-year charge to get royalties paid to performers. “Today marks the beginning of the end for corporate radio’s loophole,” said Jennifer Bendall, the group’s executive director.
“It’s unfair, unjustified and un-American that artists and musicians are paid absolutely nothing when their recordings are played on AM and FM radio. Music is their work, their livelihood. They deserve fair pay for air play,” she added. “Artists and musicians across America thank senator Leahy, representative Conyers and their colleagues for introducing bills that will close the corporate radio loophole.”
AFTRA has also been a strong supporter of the notion that artists no longer get equal benefits from promoting their work on the terrestrial airwaves and have demanded that broadcasters pay for airing the performances. “Recording artists fuel the business that sustains radio in the U.S.,” emphasized AFTRA national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth. “All other advanced nations recognize artists’ value to terrestrial radio, except the United States. The U.S. recognizes a performance right for artists on all other platforms, including satellite radio, Internet webcast radio, and cable radio channels. The federal government now has an opportunity to correct this final area of inequity — terrestrial radio in the U.S. — by creating a performance right for all recording artists to receive fair compensation for the value they bring to the American airwaves and our culture as a whole.”
But radio broadcasters have long been opposed to paying for recorded music and argue that it’s been a two way street — that performers get equal benefit from getting lots of free airplay and studio time with radio personalities who talk up their recordings, concerts and appearances, sending business their way as a result.
In a letter sent to House speaker Nancy Pelosi after the measure was introduced, National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO David Rehr again urged lawmakers to oppose legislation and characterized the measure as a “performance fee” and a “performance tax.”
“Local radio broadcasters consider this fee a ‘performance tax’ that will not only harm your local radio stations, but will threaten new artists trying to break into the business as well as your constituents who rely on local radio,” wrote Rehr. “Although the proponents of H.R. 848 claim this bill is about compensating artists, in actuality at least half of this fee will go directly into the pockets of the big record labels, funneling billions of dollars to companies based overseas.”
Rehr told Pelosi that “three of the four largest record label conglomerates — Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI — are internationally-based” and “although the big record labels have seen their revenues decline over the last decade, local radio broadcasters are not the reason the recording industry is losing money, and it should not be the industry to fix it.”
He added that he was writing to her “on behalf of the 14,000 local radio stations nationwide … to express strong opposition to H.R. 848 and respectfully request that you refrain from cosponsoring this legislation.”
“For more than 80 years, a symbiotic relationship has existed between local radio stations and the recording industry,” Rehr concluded. “Record labels and performers thrive financially from free radio airplay and local radio benefits from advertising dollars generated from playing the music.”