Music Fairness Act to Secure Radio Payments for Performers

The House Judiciary Committee has approved the American Music Fairness Act, which would require broadcast radio stations to pay royalties to performance artists and musicians. Currently only songwriters and publishers get royalties for terrestrial radio play. The U.S. is unusual among developed nations in failing to provide a legal framework for performer compensation for songs played on-air — a vestigial artifact from the days when radio was a fledgling media and airplay was considered promotion for record sales. Newer media, including streaming and other subscription services, pays performance royalties.

“In marking up the bill to leave committee, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said ‘Imagine a profession in which you put in countless hours to create a product that is appreciated by millions of people, but while major companies can generate significant profits distributing your product, those companies pay you absolutely nothing for your efforts. This may seem unthinkable, but it is the reality for American recording artists and musicians when their music is played on AM/FM radio,’” Variety reports.

Performers, Nadler continued, “do not receive a penny in exchange for the broadcast of their performances, even though the large broadcasting corporations playing their music take in billions of dollars every year from advertising,” per Variety.

“When U.S. broadcasters, including iHeartMedia, Audacy, Cumulus Media, and others, refuse to pay for AM/FM radio plays, it is a double whammy,” denying American artists the dignity of compensation for their craft, and also giving foreign countries an excuse to stiff U.S. performers when their music is played overseas, SoundExchange CEO Michael Huppe wrote in a guest column in Billboard.

He noted that because “American music is the most popular in the world, this amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost income for American creators — every year.”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) opposes the legislation, supporting alternate legislation, the Local Radio Freedom Act. NAB member stations have gone so far as to urge listeners to write their congressional reps complaining the American Music Fairness Act would burdensomely tax local radio stations.

Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said in Variety that movement of the the American Music Fairness Act through committee “marks an important step for this critical piece of legislation” involving “the music community’s right to fair pay,” adding that “it is vital to the health of our industry that creators are compensated for the use of their intellectual property on terrestrial radio.”

The bipartisan bill — introduced last year by Darrell Issa (R-California) and Ted Deutch (D-Florida) — will now move toward a vote by the full House.

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