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Backers sing for rights bill

Peter Yarrow, labor leaders press cause on Hill

Musician Peter Yarrow and labor leaders went to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to launch a new mobilization effort on behalf of the Performance Rights Act, which faces an uncertain fate on the floor of Congress.

The legislation would require broadcast radio stations to pay performers when their music is played over the air, adding an additional royalty to the one that broadcasters already pay to songwriters. The bill is vigorously opposed by radio stations, which argue that their airplay is of critical promotional value to artists and that it will place a financial burden on them at a time when many are struggling with a weak ad market.

But Yarrow, of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, said the argument “used to be a reasonable premise, but promotion for the artist doesn’t exist in the same way anymore.”

Radio stations, he said, are less likely to give a shot to new and alternative artists, already facing shrinking returns from record sales. As such, it would be more difficult for a Peter, Paul and Mary to break through these days.

“The concentration of ownership, with a monopolistic control over radio and performing spaces, makes it so the business is designed to reach the broadest possible audience. What has happened is it has wrecked the music world,” he said in an interview shortly before speaking and performing at a press conference at the Rayburn office building.

“It doesn’t make any sense to say that when a song is played on the radio, there will be remuneration for the songwriter and not for the performer who performs,” he added.

Yarrow was joined at a press conference by AFTRA president Roberta Reardon and AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka and lawmakers including Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Although the Performance Rights Act has passed Senate and House judiciary committees, congressional leaders have been hopeful musicians and broadcasters could find some sort of compromise. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave her support in a speech earlier this month, but did not say when the bill would make it to the floor.

Broadcasters, meanwhile, argue that record labels would be the real beneficiaries of performance royalties, since many hold copyrights on the songs played. Gordon Smith, president of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, wrote in the Washington Post on Monday that labels stand to collect half of the royalties, in an effort to make up for the onslaught of Internet downloads.

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