WASHINGTON — Darlene Love sang “Today I Met The Boy I Am Going to Marry” and “River Deep-Mountain High” in a House hearing room decorated in red hues for Valentine’s Day, as she and Mary Wilson of the Supremes made the case to lawmakers to pass a bill that will provide compensation for artists when their classics are played on satellite and streaming platforms.
The legislation, called the Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service and Important Contributions to Society, or CLASSICS Act, would extend copyright to sound recordings made before Feb. 15, 1972. It was not until that year until sound recordings were given such federal protection, but it was not made retroactive. Some state laws did provide protection, but artists have faced a confusing process of seeking royalties or they have been simply unaware of it.
“Unfortunately a lot of us didn’t know, including me, that they cut that off in 1972,” Love told the crowd of lawmakers and their staffs gathered on Wednesday. “Excuse me? That is when we did our greatest music.”
She said that she had never lobbied on Capitol Hill before, but decided to take time out to travel to Washington and meet with five lawmakers. She told the crowd that she does get compensated for works she recorded after 1972, as her career has continued. But other artists are not in the same situation.
“I am so blessed that I can do what I do, but there are so many of our parties who have died or are no longer here,” she said. “I don’t know where the money is going, because if you don’t know how to take care of your money when you are in this business, it is a lost cause.”
The legislation has some momentum, as it has garnered bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, while one of the companies that is most affected by it, Pandora, is backing the bill. Another company that features classic music channels, SiriusXM, has not given it its support.
“Sirius Radio makes more money off of me today than they ever did. I am always going down there and doing jobs for them,” Love, 76, told the crowd. “And they are smiling and laughing in my face and saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you for coming down,’ when they are taking our money.”
“If you don’t know it, you don’t know how to handle it,” she said.
Some 213 artists signed their name to an ad that ran in Politico on Wednesday, urging the passage of the legislation.
Wilson also lobbied lawmakers about the bill, and told Variety that the royalty payments have become more of an issue for artists with the decline of physical recordings and the growth of streaming.
“So many of the artists took for granted back in the 60s that when they played your music, it helped PR,” she said. “It helped to get people to come to your show, it helped sell albums, and all those things. So there was a reason for people not going out and saying, ‘Oh, we are not getting paid for our music every time you play it.’ We were getting paid in a different way.”
She added, “So now with the digital world coming in, when they play your music you are not getting compensated because people don’t want to go out and buy CDs and albums like they used to. That was our payback.”
She said that she continues to perform in part because she has to make up for that lost revenue.
“Now we have to work to get [that] back. Guess what? I have to. At 73 years old, I should be sitting at home and only working when I want to work, not because I have to work. I don’t have that income anymore.”
She said that as she met with senators on Wednesday, and said that “everyone was open to it because they grew up listening to that music.”
“Some of them didn’t know we didn’t get paid,” she said. “People assume when your music is played on the radio that you are being paid, and it is not true, we are not. So that means people are using your own music, your own recordings, and getting their own revenue.”
The CLASSICS Act is among a series of bills moving through Congress to update music royalty laws, and they have drawn support from record labels, publishers, streaming services and internet companies. What is being excluded, though, is a long-sought performance right to compensate labels and artists when their music is played on over-the-air stations. That issue continues to face strong opposition from the broadcast lobby.
(Disclosure: Variety and the author of this article host a weekly politics show for one of SiriusXM’s non-music channels).