Senate hears earful on royalties

Artists plea for performance rights to panel

WASHINGTON — Lyle Lovett told a largely sympathetic Senate panel Tuesday “it’s only fair” terrestrial radio pay artists a performance royalty for playing their music on air, particularly when satellite and Internet radio as well as broadcasters in most developed countries fork over perf royalties.

Currently, broadcasters pay royalties to songwriters and song publishers for the right to play their tunes on the air. But session musicians and any other back-up talent that participated in the recording are not compensated. Broadcasters maintain that air play amounts to free promotion that directly affects sales.

At a hearing held as part of Congress’ ongoing examination of performance rights, Lovett took aim at that argument.

“When radio plays recorded works, they generate profit for themselves because they attract listeners and advertising dollars,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Yet radio has never compensated performers for the value their creative work brings to the radio industry, because the Copyright Act does not protect sound recordings in the same way it protects the underlying songs. Let’s face it. No one tunes into a radio station to hear the commercials.”

Singer-songwriter Alice Peacock also testified, saying, “Every performance has the potential to be promotional, but why should that make a difference? I just got back from a gig in Grand Rapids, Mich. Imagine if the club owner used the same logic about promotion. What if at the end of the night, after I had filled his club with paying customers, he told me he didn’t have to pay me because my performance helped promote my record sales. Such a scenario would be unacceptable by any standard. Frankly, the promotion argument sounds a little silly.”

Steven Newberry, prexy-chief of Commonwealth Broadcasting Corp., didn’t budge. “The existing model works for one very simple and significant reason: the promotional value that the record labels and performers receive from free airplay on local radio stations drives consumers to purchase music,” Newberry said. “With an audience of 232 million listeners a week, there is no better way to expose and promote talent.”

Dan DeVany, vice president and general manager of pubcaster WETA radio in D.C., said most noncommercial radio stations could not afford a performance royalty and would likely go bust if forced to pay.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a published songwriter, expressed sympathy for musicians but acknowledged the problem is “a very complex one.” Echoing that sentiment, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, asked all witnesses to find out some “hard facts and numbers” and send them to the committee, so that it could act “equitably” in addressing the matter.

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