The music industry gained sympathy from a key member of Congress yesterday in its quest for a performance right in sound recordings, but broadcasters sent notice that no legislation will pass without a fight.

Setting for the discussion was the House copyright subcommittee, where chairman William Hughes (D-N.J.) held an oversight hearing on whether U.S. copyright law should be changed to grant a performance right to the music industry. If the right is granted, it’s expected broadcasters would be forced to pony up sizable amounts to the music industry beyond the estimated $ 300 million that’s paid to music licensing orgs each year.

Hughes appeared to be leaning in favor of the performance right, arguing that new technology such as digital audio broadcasting and digital cable networks “could have a profound (negative) impact on retail sales (of music).”

Bolstering Hughes’ claim was Nicholas Garnett, director general of the Intl. Federation of the Phonographic Industry, who lamented the fact that the U.S. remains isolated in much of the world of copyright by not having passed performance right legislation. Garnett said the U.S. “can and should take the lead internationally” in the context of performance rights.

Jay Berman, head of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, said that “if the U.S. recording industry is to continue to be one of the shining stars of our cultural heritage, this fundamental unfairness must be remedied.”

Berman said it is “past time the U.S. joins its trading partners” and enact performance right legislation.

Eddie Fritts, head of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, argued that record companies already get “tremendous benefit” from the airplay of music.

Fritts also questioned whether the advent of digital technology necessarily will mean the loss of revenue to the music industry.

Nevertheless, Fritts said he is willing to hold discussions with the recording industry over the impact of digital technology.

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