Congress 2019

A pair of Senators from states that are home to plenty of musicians have introduced a bill that, if passed, would create a performance royalty on radio airplay. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced the companion to a House version of the American Music Fairness Act. In a joint statement, the two senators said the bill would bring radio “up-to-speed with all other music streaming platforms, which already pay artists for their music.”

The bill comes late in the legislative cycle and after the broadcast industry has corralled a majority of House members to oppose the idea of creating a performance right on AM/FM airplay. That has cast doubt on the prospects for the House version of the bill (H.R. 4130).

In the Senate, there are 28 lawmakers who have also signed the Local Radio Freedom Act. It 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.

Undeterred, supporters of a radio royalty had pledged to introduce the royalty bill in the Senate.

“While broadcasters demand compensation for the content they create and distribute, they don’t apply this view to the songwriters, artists, and musicians whose music they play on the radio without paying royalties,” said Blackburn, who has unsuccessfully tried to get a similar bill passed for nearly a decade.

Similar to the House version, the Senate bill would require radio to pay for on-air music use. It also includes carve-outs for smaller operators. If enacted, the bill would require radio stations that fall under $1.5 million in annual revenue and whose parent companies make less than $10 million in annual revenue to pay $500 per year in performance royalties, or less than two dollars per day. Smaller stations – those with less than $100,000 per year in revenue – would pay ten dollars a year.

The creation of a performance right on U.S. radio would also allow record companies and artists to collect royalties on airplay overseas.

“For too long, our laws have unfairly denied artists the right to receive fair compensation for their hard work and talent on AM/FM broadcasts,” said Padilla.

The National Association of Broadcasters has led efforts to block the royalty bill. It says the creation of a performance right on AM/FM airplay would “inhibit musicians’ exposure” shifting some stations away from playing music – or even result in some doing dark.

"NAB remains steadfastly opposed to the AMFA, which disregards the value of radio and would undermine our critical public service to line the pockets of multinational billion-dollar record labels,” NAB President Cutis LeGeyt said in a statement.

NAB Pushes For New Negotiations

The music industry has been attempting to change federal copyright law for decades and Mitch Glazier, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, sees the current proposal as a “smart, calibrated approach” to solving the standoff.

Other music industry groups backing the legislation include The Recording Academy, the American Association of Independent Music, the American Federation of Musicians, and SoundExchange. Several called the Senate bill an “important step forward” in the fight.

The NAB may not like the current legislative proposal, but LeGeyt said broadcasters remains committed to working with lawmakers to find a “mutually beneficial solution” to the disagreement.

“This one-sided AMFA proposal is not the answer,” LeGeyt said. “We urge the recording industry to return to the negotiating table in an effort to find common ground."

Tight Timeline

The renewed push in Congress faces several legislative realities, including a calendar with few days left before lawmakers leave Washington to focus on their re-elections. The lameduck session after Election Day could offer another opportunity, but the lead Democratic sponsor of the bill in the House – Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) – announced in March he would leave Congress on Oct. 1 to become CEO of the American Jewish Committee.

There are also opponents on both sides of the aisle. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called the bill “well intentioned” but said it still needed work because it “doesn’t address the concerns of smalltown radio stations – it could force them out of the broadcast business.”

Joe Crowley, the former congressman who now leads the musicFirst Coalition, remains hopeful however saying the bill is “gaining momentum” and he still sees an opening. “We look forward to progress in the months ahead,” he said.