The United States is the only major country in the world where terrestrial radio pays no royalties to performers or recorded-music copyright owners of the songs they play, a situation that is largely due to the powerful radio lobby’s influence in Congress. While the more than 8,300 AM and FM stations across the country pay royalties to songwriters, they have never paid performers or copyright holders, although streaming services do.
On Thursday, Reps. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced the bipartisan American Music Fairness Act, which aims to rectify that situation. The act was introduced via a livestreamed event that saw the lawmakers joined by an unusual collection of artists that included veteran singers Dionne Warwick and Sam Moore along with the Dropkick Murphys’ Ken Casey.
“The American Music Fairness Act will protect the artists we know as they make the music we love,” Deutch said. “For the first time, artists would see a piece of the massive profits made on the backs of their creative work. Congress must end the unfair deal AM/FM radio has forced on musicians.”
The bill is at least partially in response to the Local Radio Freedom Act that Steve Womack (R-AR) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced last month, which is championed by the National Association of Broadcasters. That act aims to continue terrestrial radio’s royalty-free status, stating that Congress should not impose any new performance royalty or other charges that might create economic hardship for locally owned radio stations. Some 138 Representatives and 18 Senators have signed that non-binding resolution; Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and John Barrasso (R-WY) are championing similar legislation in the Senate.
While still a powerful force, it is no secret that terrestrial radio is rapidly losing audience to streaming services, satellite radio, podcasts and other broadcasters, and once streaming services become widely available in cars, that decline is likely to accelerate dramatically. Champions of the Radio Freedom Act are using that threat as an argument for radio to continue to pay no royalties to performers and copyright holders.
“The Local Radio Freedom Act is a non-binding resolution that reaffirms Congress’s support for local radio stations and opposes new fees or taxes on local, free, broadcast radio which could jeopardize those very services upon which so many rely,” Castor said in a statement.
As expected, the NAB spoke out against the Fairness Act within an hour of it being introduced. “NAB strongly opposes the American Music Fairness Act or any imposition of a performance royalty on America’s local radio stations, said president/CEO Gordon Smith. “For decades, broadcast radio has enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with the music industry, launching and sustaining the careers of countless artists, promoting album sales and streams, and helping to foster a robust music-creation environment that is the envy of the world.”