New legislation would compel pay-for-play

Call it pay-for-play, the legal version.

A bipartisan group of top lawmakers has introduced legislation that would compel broadcasters to pay performers when their music is played over the air.

Songwriters and publishers have long received royalties for airplay of their tunes, but performers have not. An intense lobbying effort by musicians to change that seems to have borne fruit, as Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as well as Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) together sponsored the Performance Rights Act on Tuesday.

“Aspiring performers, local musicians and well-known artists should be compensated for their music when it is played on the radio, both today and in the future,” said Tod Donhauser, a spokesman for the Fairness in Radio Starting Today Coalition, in a statement. The bill would finally close the “corporate radio loophole,” Donhauser added.

The National Assn. of Broadcasters has vehemently opposed paying a fee for performers, arguing that free airplay constitutes substantial free marketing and contributes significantly to sales. Musicians dispute that.

On Tuesday, NAB exec VP Dennis Wharton released a statement saying : “After decades of Ebenezer Scrooge-like exploitation of countless artists, RIAA and the foreign-owned record labels are singing a new holiday jingle to offset their failing business model. NAB will aggressively oppose this brazen attempt to force America’s hometown radio stations to subsidize companies that have profited enormously through the free promotion provided by radio airplay.”

“The bottom line here is that radio plays music to attract listeners and bring in advertising dollars,” said coalition founding member Tom Waits in a statement. “It’s just plain wrong for radio to be allowed to build profitable businesses with growing revenues on the backs of artists and musicians without paying them fairly for it.”

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