Author: Reams, James

Performance Rights vs Radio Freedom Ė Who is a Musician to Believe?

Digging through political doublespeak on the Internet is worse than having a dentist digging around in my mouth. It was like trying to swim in quicksand. I kept getting sucked inÖdeeper and deeper with each click of the mouse. And the articles werenít short ones either, many had clickable references to other pertinent articles and off I would go, down another rabbit hole leaving behind a whole trail of Internet cookie crumbs. Okay, I think I mixed up a whole batch of metaphors there, but you get the idea. To say I was confounded would be putting it mildly. But I thought that as a musician, I should be informed about potential legislation that could affect my bank statement.

Before you start writing a comment, I just want you to know that Iím not taking sides on this issue. To paraphrase a favorite TV character, I just plan to present the facts ó short and sweet. And then maybe two of us will be aware of whatís going on about performance rights, free market royalties and radio airplay.

Legislation for Performance Rights Act H.R. 848 was first presented to Congress in 2009 and, though the bill died in committee, the issue has been heatedly debated in recent months with the February, 2013 introduction of the Local Radio Freedom Act (H.Con.Res. 16). In September of 2013, HR 3219 the Free Market Royalty Act was introduced. Hotly contended in all this flurry of legislature is the core issue, should AM/FM radio stations in the US be required to pay performers for broadcasting their sound recordings over the air?

The National Association of Broadcasters is opposed to a performance fee that must be borne by radio stations citing that local radio stations provide valuable community services (emergency alerts, local news/weather, etc.) and already provide free advertising and promotion for the recording industry. Non-commercial stations that are supported by listeners and tax dollars as well as college stations were presented as being particularly at risk of shutting down because of increased fees.

It should be no surprise that the Future of Music Coalition, SAG-AFTRA, the American Federation of Musicians, the International Association of Independent Recording Artists and the Recording Academy all support the performance fee. These agencies point out that AM/FM radio is the only type of radio that doesnít pay performers for playing their sound recordings (only songwriters and publishers get paid). Besides the US, very few countries do not compensate performers when their songs are played on the radio and local radio is alive and well in most industrialized countries despite any additional costs performance royalties may have imposed on them.

I found out that the now dead Performance Rights Act did take into consideration the plight of non-commercial and college radio stations by suggesting a cap on the amount those stations would pay out annually for unlimited use of recorded music ($500 to $1000). On the other hand, I also read that fewer artists are providing promo copies of their albums to radio stations, prompting radio broadcasters to feel like they would be required to pay for the music twice Ė once when they purchased the album and again whenever they played a recording.

Opposition to the performance fee also claim that AM/FM radio could be forced to adopt talk radio formats over music, a thought that sent shivers up my spine. As a performer I think it would be great to get paid any time one of my songs is played, and not just when Iím the songwriter. But I also want my songs to GET played and if the performance fee is going to affect play time for my music then Iíve just stabbed myself in the back.

Seems to me that there should be some sort of happy medium and maybe thatís what the Free Market Royalty Act will provide. Check out this site from Music First to find answers to the most frequently asked questions about this Act. Since it was introduced in September, 2013, there have been a number of articles/postings about this piece of potential legislation but it seems to me to be the same arguments pro/con that surrounded the Performance Rights Act.

Iím not an expert on these topics but I am a voter. And these resolutions may end up on a ballot someday, perhaps even in my lifetime. As musicians and music lovers, we owe it to ourselves to be educated about these issues, even if it leaves us in a coma.

Your thoughts? Write to me at Better yetÖthe National Association of Broadcasters has posted a list of House Representatives that are co-sponsoring the Local Radio Freedom Act resolution. You may want to contact your representative and let them know your feelings on the subject.

Posted:  1/16/2014

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