The music industry is stepping up efforts to recruit more artists in the battle over intellectual property rights, including the fight to secure a performance right for broadcast radio airplay. The MusicFirst Coalition is launching a national digital ad campaign targeting music creators with the goal of recruiting them to the advocacy effort. Those artists who agree to join the fight will be asked to send messages to the members of Congress as well as share their stories on MusicFirst’s redesigned website.
“Our goal is to rally the people and organizations who make and love music to ask Congress to address obvious flaws in our copyright system,” MusicFirst executive director Chris Israel said. “We are simply looking for a level playing field with no government subsidies, grandfather clauses or decades-old safe harbors.”
The new campaign will take a none too-veiled whack at several of the biggest music users with tongue in cheek themes and logos including “No Heart Radio” in a swipe at iHeartRadio, “Siriusly Artists Deserve Better” targeting SiriusXM Radio, and “You Lose” which goes after YouTube. Each element hits on now familiar themes including a belief that over-the-air radio should pay a royalty for music use and that satellite radio and YouTube shouldn’t pay less than online music services. MusicFirst is also pushing for expansion of copyright protections which current only cover music recorded after Feb. 15, 1972. It estimates that if copyright law is changed to cover songs created before that cutoff it would result in additional payments to artists totaling $60 million a year for digital airplay alone.
“The music industry has evolved, innovated and grown. Some of those who told us to ‘adapt to disruption’ are now the ones hiding behind outdated government protections,” Israel said. “It’s time to modernize the rules to let competition, innovation and great music thrive.”
The National Association of Broadcasters said it will continue to “strongly oppose” MusicFirst’s “misguided campaign” for a performance royalty that the NAB says would devastate the economics of hometown stations and result in less music played on radio. “Broadcasters will happily have the debate over which side has been more supportive of music creators—local radio stations or the giant record labels bankrolling MusicFirst,” executive VP Dennis Wharton said in a statement. “Every day, local radio stations jumpstart and sustain the careers of musicians through free airplay of music. Every week, local radio exposes our 265 million listeners to artists and entertainers who are part of the most vibrant music culture in the world. Every year, broadcasters pay hundreds of millions of dollars to songwriters whose music becomes popular because of airplay on local radio.” In contrast, Wharton said the big record labels have “abused” artists and been repeatedly sued for non-payment of royalties by artists ranging from Paul McCartney to Lil Wayne.
MusicFirst’s campaign comes as Washington prepares for the return of Congress next week from its summer recess. The proposed Fair Play Fair Pay Act (H.R. 1836) that would create a performance right for AM/FM airplay has stalled since its introduction, carrying just 23 cosponsors. The Fair Play Fair Pay Act would not only create a radio royalty but would also require stations to pay royalties on songs recorded before Feb. 1972, when federal copyright protection began. The bill also would take steps to end what supporters say are the below-market royalties paid by SiriusXM Radio.
At the same time a House resolution opposing a radio royalty now has the support of 207 lawmakers. That’s just a handful shy of the 218 required to effectively block any legislation from passing. A companion resolution in the Senate has the support of 24 senators.