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House Judiciary Committee Approves Bill Requiring Radio Stations to Pay Royalties to Performers

The American Music Fairness Act would still have to go through the full House, as well as meet approval from the Senate and the president, to be signed into law.

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In a markup session, the House Judiciary Committee has given its approval to a bill that implement a sound recording performance royalty on over-the-air broadcasting, the American Music Fairness Act. If the bipartisan bill were to go through, artists, performers, producers and musicians involved in creating songs would receive royalties when their music plays on U.S. terrestrial radio stations, just as songwriters already do.

The U.S. is the only major country in the world where terrestrial radio is not required by law to pay royalties to performers or recorded-music copyright owners of the songs played on-air. Streaming services and SiriusXM satellite radio already do pay such performance royalties.

In marking up the bill to leave committee, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said “Imagine a profession in which you put in countless hours to create a product that is appreciated by millions of people, but while major companies can generate significant profits distributing your product, those companies pay you absolutely nothing for your efforts. This may seem unthinkable, but it is the reality for American recording artists and musicians when their music is played on AM/FM radio. They do not receive a penny in exchange for the broadcast of their performances, even though the large broadcasting corporations playing their music take in billions of dollars every year from advertising.” 

Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. praised Wednesday’s vote, writing in a statement: “Today’s passage of the American Music Fairness Act through the House Judiciary Committee marks an important step for this critical piece of legislation, and I am grateful to Chairman Nadler, Rep. (Darrell) Issa, and members of the committee for supporting the music community’s right to fair pay. It is vital to the health of our industry that creators are compensated for the use of their intellectual property on terrestrial radio, and the Recording Academy will continue to advocate for AMFA until this bill is signed into law.”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has aggressively resisted the legislation, with many stations even putting commercials on the air to have their listeners write congresspeople contending the proposed royalties will place an unfair burden on local radio outlets.

With the bill in motion, it will proceed to consideration by the full House. It would need to be approved by both the House and Senate and signed by the president before it would become law. The Senate introduced its own version of the bill in September.

The American Music Fairness Act was introduced into the House of Representatives last year by Congressmen Issa (R-CA) and Ted Deutch (D-FL).

Anticipating the committee’s passage of the bill, the National Association of Broadcasters released a statement last week asserting that passage by the full House was unlikely, and pushing a different piece of legislation — the Local Radio Freedom Act — that the organization contends is supported by many more House members.

Said NAB president-CEO Curtis LeGeyt on Dec. 2, “More than 250 bipartisan cosponsors of the Local Radio Freedom Act, including a majority of the House of Representatives, stand with America’s local broadcasters against this onerous performance fee that would irrevocably damage local radio. In spite of this, the recording industry continues its uncompromising pursuit of this one-sided proposal that would upend the relationship between artists and broadcast radio.” LeGeyt added that “NAB remains committed to working to find a mutually beneficial solution to this decades-old policy disagreement, but this AMFA proposal is not the answer. A markup of this legislation as drafted simply ensures that yet another Congress will pass without meaningful progress on this issue.”

The Broadcast Law Blog has written that the bill is not likely to be up for immediate approval by the full House, with the current membership of Congress constituting a “lame duck” assembly that will last only through the end of the month.

The American Music Fairness Act is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the American Federation of Musicians, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), SAG-AFTRA and SoundExchange.

“Congressional action on the American Music Fairness Act demonstrates that while justice can be delayed, it ultimately cannot be denied,” said Michael Huppe, president-CEO of SoundExchange, in a statement. “For decades, broadcast corporations have made hundreds of billions of dollars while denying creators royalties for music played on AM/FM radio stations. That’s fundamentally wrong. Everyone knows that, including the broadcasters.”