Capitol

Supporters of a performance royalty on AM/FM airplay have introduced legislation in Congress that would require stations to pay a fee on music they use for over-the-air broadcasts. The proposed Fair Play Fair Pay Act aims to achieve what supporters haven’t been able to get done for decades.

Introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the proposal would create a performance right on AM/FM airplay, which he says would put broadcasters on “equal footing” with internet and satellite radio services. “This would resolve the decades-old struggle for performance rights and ensure that—for the first time—music creators would have the right to fair pay when their performances are broadcast on AM/FM radio,” the announcement from Nadler’s office says.

Like similar legislative proposals made in the past, the latest iteration of the bill would offer a carve-out for small stations with less than $1 million in annual revenue. They’d be able to pay a flat $500 per year royalty rate if the station operates commercially. Noncommercial stations would be offered a $100 flat rate. Nadler says the bill would also protect news/talk and religious stations from having to pay any royalties at all.

The bill was cosponsored by Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Conyers (D-MI), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Tom Rooney (R-FL). Sponsors also throw their support behind efforts to secure royalties for recordings made prior to the 1972 cutoff date although they stop short of taking any action on the issue. Instead, Nadler says Congress will “closely monitor” the legal developments on the issue with several lawsuits pending in state courts around the country.

“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,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement. “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.”

Broadcasters have successfully sidelined a series of efforts to adopt a performance royalty over the past decade by enlisting members of Congress to go on record opposing such a fee. That strategy is again being used this year with more lawmakers signing at a quicker pace than in the past. To date, 165 House members—more than half the 216 currently needed to block a bill—and 21 Senators have gone on record opposing a radio royalty.

The National Association of Broadcasters says those signatures acknowledge broadcast radio’s indispensable role in breaking new artists and promoting record sales. It points out that in the past week alone, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) and Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) joined as cosponsors of the resolution. “NAB remains committed to working with Congress on balanced music licensing proposals that help grow the entire music ecosystem, promote innovation and recognize the benefit of our free locally focused platform to both artists and listeners,” NAB president Gordon Smith said in a statement.

Despite the success of the effort to block a radio royalty in the past, the Content Creators Coalition (c3) says use of such resolutions has “worn thin.” The music industry advocacy group is pushing for the bill to be included in any copyright reform legislation that gains traction in Congress. “We are at a decisive moment for music creators and c3’s grassroots army of musicians and fans stands ready to mobilize in support of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act and other reforms to ensure the next generation of artists doesn’t disappear,” c3 said in a statement.

The group believes House Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) will include a radio royalty component as part of a final push in his multiyear effort to update copyright law. And musicFirst executive director Chris Israel thinks recent developments in Washington show “clear momentum for reaching a solution to copyright reform that establishes free market pay for all music creators and technology-neutral rules for music services.”

But a Judiciary Committee aide tells Inside Radio no decisions have been made about whether to include a radio royalty in the bill and conversations continue with all sides.