Royalties

In a political environment consumed by Democrats’ efforts to impeach President Trump, the National Association of Broadcasters has secured two more members of Congress to go on the record opposing a performance royalty for radio. Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and Ron Wright (R-TX) have added their signatures to The Local Radio Freedom Act, a non-binding resolution that signals Members’ opposition to any potential legislation that imposes new performance royalties on broadcast radio stations for music airplay.

With Cummings and Wright joining the list, the resolution now has 194 cosponsors in the House and 24 in the Senate. Those numbers fall short of what the NAB had secured for the resolution at this point last year. By late September 2018, 227 House members had gone on record backing the resolution, in addition to 28 in the Senate. Despite the shortfall, NAB President & CEO Gordon Smith believes there is little appetite to pass legislation that would create a performance royalty for radio. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the leading sponsor of a bill to create a performance royalty on radio in the previous session of Congress, has yet to introduce a royalty bill. Nadler, who now heads the Judiciary Committee, has “his hands full with trying to impeach the President and my experience having lived through the Clinton impeachment process is that consumes all of the oxygen on Capitol Hill,” Smith said on the Inside Radio Podcast.

Despite that, the recording industry isn’t relenting on efforts to get Congress to introduce a royalty bill. In an op-ed published by Variety, SoundExchange President & CEO Michael Huppe and recording artist-actor Common say radio’s royalty exemption makes a “mockery” of the concept of fair pay for one’s work. “No one can call our copyright laws ‘modernized’ until FM radio is held to the same standard as the music services it competes with on the dashboard and in American homes — the ones who pay artists,” the two write. “This is the longest standing inequity in our copyright laws, and it’s time to get real about solving it.

While Congress has encouraged radio and the record labels to negotiate a resolution to the decades old issue, Huppe and Common contend that no meaningful talks can take place until legislation is passed that requires FM radio broadcasters to get permission from music copyright owners before airing their music. “Having that performance right for sound recordings would set the table for real marketplace negotiations,” they say.