Politicians, Artists Debate Performance Fees

More than 100 recording artists, politicians and Capitol Hill staff packed into a Rayburn House office building hearing room Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 24) to call for the passage of controversial legislation that, if passed, would force radio stations to pay fees for airing recorded works. One National Association of Broadcasters spokesman in the room said the legislation would mean “lights out” for the already financially strapped radio industry.

During a series of brief speeches from recording artists and legislators who back the Performance Rights Act (S.379 and H.R. 848), performer Patti LaBelle said “radio is doing us in” because it does not pay artists and performers for broadcasting recorded performances.
Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am argued that it is time for a change, that radio needs to pay artists and that business has changed. “There are no record stores today. Success is being No. 1 on [Apple’s] iTunes” he said.

“This is a fairness issue. This is about correcting a wrong. This is an issue of private property rights. They [artists and performers] should be compensated for using their property,” said Marsha Blackburn, the Republican House member who represents both Nashville and Memphis in Tennessee.

Hollywood, Calif., Democrat Howard Berman, who originally pushed the legislation in the 110th Congress and helped bring it to the current 111th session, rejects the broadcast industry’s argument that it should not pay royalty fees because it provides equal promotional value to artists by airing their work. “The broadcasters don’t tell the NFL or the NBA that they are promoting their sports and that they don’t need to pay for the air rights. They couldn’t even keep a straight face saying that to them.”

Broadcasters have been rallying against the measures and have added the support of 16 additional House members to an NAB-backed resolution that opposes the introduction of “any new performance fee, tax, royalty or other charge” on local radio stations. Now, 126 members have signed the resolution that carries no regulatory power, but is considered by broadcasters as a barometer of what some House members are thinking.

Berman dismissed the resolution. “I know many of those members who signed on to that resolution who have no fundamental understanding what it means or what it stands for. We have so many good arguments on our side that I think we can overcome that. This is a righteous issue,” he said.

NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton, who was also in the hearing room that included such high profile recording artists as Herbie Hancock, Dionne Warwick, Christian contemporary star Matt Maher and Los Tigres del Norte, said, “We look forward to a great debate about who has been more fair to artists: recording labels or radio.”