More than 200 musicians and songwriters lobbied Congress on Thursday to pass legislation that would make terrestrial radio broadcasters pay performance royalties when their songs are aired.
The proposal, co-sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, is a priority for the Recording Academy, whose members say such a law would bring the U.S. more into line with the rest of the world, keep pace with changes in the technology of music consumption and fairly compensate artists whenever AM or FM radio plays their songs.
“Their product is still being used as a product that an entity profits from — they’re making money on it — but the individual that created that product doesn’t get any share of that,” Blackburn said Thursday.
Blackburn and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., are sponsoring the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, which would end the practice among AM and FM radio stations of not paying royalties to artists and labels, based on the premise that radio play is a form of promotion and drives record sales.
George Flanigen, chairman emeritus of the Recording Academy, was among the musicians and songwriters who fanned out across Capitol Hill on Thursday to meet with lawmakers and press them to support the legislation. He said the old model no longer works in the modern world of satellite radio and Internet streaming.
“We’re going to lose that creative niche in our society of songwriters,” Flanigen said after a meeting with Blackburn. “Those people who wrote songs (for someone else to perform) did nothing but write songs. The artists are making their living on the road, but now the songwriter is making next to nothing. It could make the songwriter extinct.”
The legislation was introduced last year. Blackburn said she and Nadler continue to lobby the House Judiciary Committee for a vote.
“The support has grown over the last several years … and people see this as an intellectual property issue and the right for a creator to be paid,” she said.
But the proposal is strongly opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters. It calls the idea a performance tax that would financially burden local radio stations, which still reach 265 million Americans a week.
“It is disappointing that this bill retreads years-old policy positions rather than advancing the copyright dialogue through policies that help grow the entire music ecosystem,” NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said when the bill was introduced.
Instead, the broadcasters are advocating for legislation that would prohibit payment of royalties by broadcast radio stations. It's picked up 225 co-sponsors in the U.S. House.
Flanigen said the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, with 30 House cosponsors, includes
protections for small radio stations. College stations and nonprofits would pay only $100 a year, and stations with less than $1 million in annual profits would pay $500 a year.
Blackburn said she's also willing to consider phasing in the royalties on commercial stations over several years to ease the financial burden.
“We don’t want to put anybody out of business at all,” Flanigen said. “We just want fair pay.”
The legislation also would require all forms of radio, regardless of format, to pay fair market value for the music they play, ending what Nadler and Blackburn say are unfair, illogical distortions in effect. It also would close a copyright loophole that prevents digital services from paying artists and labels a royalty for songs recorded before 1972.
Troyan, Mary. "Music Industry Lobbies Congress on Royalties." Tennessean Washington Bureau. April 14, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2016. http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2016/04/14/music-industry-lobbies-congress-royalties/83045200/.