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Efforts to get radio royalties for recordings back on agenda in US Congress

By | Published on Friday 31 March 2017

US Congress

Six members of US Congress yesterday put the Fair Play Fair Pay Act back onto the agenda in the latest effort to force AM and FM radio stations in America to pay royalties to artists and labels as well as songwriters and music publishers, preferably sometime before AM/FM radio becomes a defunct medium.

As much previously reported, US copyright law is unusual in that it doesn’t provide a general ‘performing right’ for sound recordings, meaning third parties do not need to secure a licence or pay any royalties to artists and labels when they play a track on the radio or in public. There is, however, a digital performing right, meaning online and satellite broadcasters do need a licence.

This peculiarity of American law means artists and labels do not earn any royalties when their music is played on the radio, unlike their counterparts in most other countries. Meanwhile online and satellite broadcasters are at a disadvantage to AM/FM broadcasters.

There have been various efforts over the years to introduce a general performing right for sound recordings in the US, most recently via the proposed Fair Play Fair Pay Act that is now back on the agenda in Congress thanks to politicians Jerrold Nadler, Marsha Blackburn, John Conyers Jr, Darrell Issa, Ted Deutch and Tom Rooney.

The six Representatives said yesterday: “Our current music licensing laws are antiquated and unfair, which is why we need a system that ensures all radio services play by the same rules and all artists are fairly compensated”.

They went on: “Our laws should reward innovation, spur economic diversity and uphold the constitutional rights of creators. That is what the Fair Play Fair Pay Act sets out to accomplish: fixing a system that for too long has disadvantaged music creators and pitted technologies against each other by allowing certain services to get away with paying little or nothing to artists”.

The proposals would specifically add a ‘terrestrial performance right’ for recordings into federal copyright law. There would be caps on royalty payments for smaller and non-commercial stations, measures to ensure artists as well as labels benefited, and a rule that the introduction of royalties for artists and labels couldn’t be used to try to reduce the royalties already paid to songwriters and publishers.

The act would also seek to apply the new performing right to recordings which pre-date 1972 and therefore are actually protected by state-level copyright law in the US. As also previously reported, whether or not the federal digital performing right should apply to pre-1972 tracks has been something of a contentious point.

The US Content Creators Coalition, for which this is a key issue, welcomed the news that the AM/FM royalties legislation was back on the agenda in Washington. Its President and Exec Director – Melvin Gibbs and Jeffrey Boxer respectively – said in a joint statement: “For decades, artists have been forced to let their music generate billions of dollars of advertising profit to the corporate investors of radio companies while not being paid one cent for their art. It is past time for Congress to right this wrong”.

The big traditional broadcasters have always objected to the introduction of a general performing right, but Gibbs and Boxer argue that “big corporate radio’s hollow arguments and Potemkin resolutions have worn thin – and failed to stem the tide of progress”. Noting all the past efforts to make US radio pay, they say they were “heartened” by this week’s developments, and that “we also are hopeful that this legislation will reform the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to restore the balance Congress had intended”.

They conclude: “We are at a decisive moment for music creators and our grassroots army of musicians and fans stands ready to mobilise in support of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act and other reforms to ensure the next generation of artists don’t disappear”.

The Recording Industry Association Of America also welcomed the return of the radio royalties act, with its boss Cary Sherman saying: “This bipartisan bill helps create a more level playing field when music is played on various platforms. By doing away with big radio’s subsidy that rips off artists and labels, helping streamline producer payments, fixing the pre-72 loophole to help legacy artists get paid, and finally bringing SiriusXM’s antiquated rate paid to music creators into alignment with its competitors, this bill is much-needed legislation made to fit today’s modern music industry”.



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