Rights bill gains ground

Record companies are crowing while broadcasters are crying over the Clinton administration’s announced support for legislation that would create a performance right for digital sound recordings.

The performance right would establish for the first time that record companies be paid a royalty from recorded music. Currently, the licensing fee paid to such companies as ASCAP and BMI is distributed strictly to songwriters and publishers.

White House support for the change in U.S. copyright law came in the form of a letter this week from Commerce Dept. general counsel Ginger Lew to House copyright subcommittee chairman William Hughes (D-N.J.), the sponsor of the performance right bill.

Lew told Hughes the White House “share(s) your belief that by affording performance rights to digital transmissions of sound recordings the U.S. will … provide necessary rights to the creators of these culturally and economically important copyrighted works.” Lew also claimed establishment of a digital performance right “will strengthen the hand (of those) seeking a fair share of foreign royalty pools” for U.S. artists.

The Recording Industry Assn. of America has long fought for a performance right that would force broadcasters to pay royalties for recorded music played on radio and TV stations.

RIAA’s fight has intensified in recent years with the advent of new digital technology that permits the transmission and copying of CD-quality sounds over TV, radio and digital cable services.

Dozens of countries have enacted the performance right concept, yet U.S. artists receive no compensation when their music is performed abroad because the U.S. has yet to enact the performance rights law.

RIAA prexy Jay Berman called the Clinton administration letter “welcome news for us.” A spokesman for Hughes said the White House missive helps chances for passage of the legislation.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

White House support for a performance right prompted the National Assn. of Broadcasters to claim the Clinton administration is trying to make amends for failing to win favorable national treatment of U.S. copyrighted works during the recent global trade talks.

Congress is “unlikely to be receptive to the idea of throwing 11,000 American-owned-and-operated radio stations to the foreign-based recording industry wolves in return for the hopelessly slim prospect that such a trade would improve our prospects in future intellectual property trade negotiations,” NAB lobbyist Jim May said.

In the past, NAB has noted that broadcasters pay millions each year to licensing orgs such as BMI and ASCAP for the right to recorded music. Moreover, NAB claims airplay by its members leads to higher sales for recording artists.

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