A milestone in broadcasters’ multiyear effort to block a performance royalty has been reached as the number of House members that have gone on the record opposing the creation of a royalty on AM and FM airplay has now reached 223. That is more than the 218 is required to effectively block any bill in the House.
During the past few weeks several more House members have signed on to the Local Radio Freedom Act, including Reps. Michael Burgess (R-TX), Danny Davis (D-IL), Mike Garcia (R-CA), Chris Jacobs (R-NY), Ben McAdams (D-UT), Michael McCaul (R-TX), John Moolenaar (R-MI), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Thomas Tiffany (R-WI).
“NAB greatly appreciates the bipartisan coalition of Representatives and Senators who have declared their support for hometown radio stations by cosponsoring the Local Radio Freedom Act,” sad NAB President Gordon Smith in a statement. “A performance royalty would inhibit musicians’ exposure on free and local radio, hurt stations’ ability to serve their communities, and damage the long-standing relationship between broadcasters and the recording industry. In these difficult times for all businesses, radio broadcasters thank lawmakers for opposing a job-killing performance royalty and look forward to continuing to provide unparalleled promotional value for new and established performing artists."
Support has been bipartisan in the 116th Session, although the broadcast industry has found Republican members to be more accepting of the industry’s efforts. Despite having fewer House members, slightly more than two-thirds of the signatures on the resolution have come from Republican members.
Meanwhile in the Senate there are 27 lawmakers on record opposing the idea of creating a performance right on broadcast radio airplay. There too support for radio’s position has been bipartisan yet with a greater percentage of Republicans siding with the industry.
The Local Radio Freedom Act explicitly recognizes the “mutually beneficial relationship” between local radio and the recording industry, including the “free publicity and promotion” that performers receive and use to sell records and concert tickets. It also says that changing the law to create a new performance right for AM/FM would lead to thousands of local radio stations suffering “severe economic hardship” if any new fee is imposed.
Cajoling members of Congress to sign what amounts to a nonbinding resolution has been a strategy that broadcast lobbyists have repeatedly used to success. It has signaled to advocates of changing radio’s long-held exemption to copyright law for over-the-air music use that there was insufficient support for doing so. The current session of Congress was a slower slog for radio. It took 17 months since it was introduced in February 2019 by Reps. Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Kathy Castor (D-FL). When a similar resolution was circulated it took less than eight months to get to the needed 218 mark.
The radio royalty issue had been more than theoretical ever since the Ask Musicians for Music Act, or AM-FM Act for short, was introduced last November by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). If enacted it would give copyright owners the authority to require stations to obtain their consent to use their recordings, a move designed to require stations to secure licenses to use music. The bills include what would be significant discounts for small and noncommercial stations. Both the House and Senate versions have failed to secure any cosponsors since they were introduced nine months ago.
For the past three years the National Association of Broadcasters has held informal discussions with the music industry as it tried to work out a compromise to a royalty conundrum that has existed for decades. The conversations have helped convince some members of Congress to maintain a hands-off approach, hoping the radio and music industries could work out a solution without legislative intervention.
“We are always open for dialogue,” NAB COO Curtis LeGeyt told a Senate hearing in March. He said the NAB has “gone to great lengths” to see if there might be a solution that could benefit both sides and is willing to continue in that effort. “We have at many points felt like we did not have a willing dance partner on the part of the music industry,” he said.
Congressional staffers have said some lawmakers may try to make some changes to copyright law after Election Day during the upcoming lame duck session of Congress.