Local Radio Freedom Act: The Battle Begins


Last December, bills that would impose new performance royalties on over-the-air broadcasters were introduced by Howard Berman (D-CA) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in the U.S. Senate. For small broadcasters, this is a very big deal, one that in some cases could cause them to close up shop and quit the airwaves.

Fortunately, a bipartisan effort originating in Texas and introduced by State Representatives Gene Green (D-TX) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) has been brought to the floor to combat it. To date, 148 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have now stepped up to the plate to back the Local Radio Freedom Act.

The most often quoted portion of the resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 244 for those of you taking notes) reads, “Congress should not impose any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge relating to the public performance of sound recordings on a local radio station for broadcasting sound recordings over-the-air, or on any business for such public performance of sound recordings.”

The act was introduced the day after Alicia Keyes thanked radio for her success while accepting her Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Performance by saying, “I have to thank… every DJ, every radio guy, every promotions guy, everybody who ever put up a poster for me and spread the word.” Like most recording artists, she acknowledges the boost that free airplay of her music has provided for her career. As a matter of fact, it takes very little effort to unearth a variety of quotes to this effect, many of them made by artists but many more made by recording industry executives themselves.

“[R]adio remains the best way to get new music into the listeners’ lives.”
–Sony BMG Executive VP Butch Waugh as quoted in Radio & Records, January 11

“[R]adio is the conduit to the people, the voice of the format and the lifestyle’s soundtrack
-Sony BMG Nashville VP of Marketing Tom Baldrica, as quoted in Radio & Records, January 11

While the RIAA continues to push for ever increasing royalties on broadcast and on the Internet under the banner of protecting artists’ royalties, they continue to ignore the fact that the vast majority of recording artists owe their start and a lion’s share of their popularity to the free airplay that showcases them to the public. It is a safe bet that many artists would not have reached a high enough profile to be worried about royalties without the benefit of radio. This is supported by the vast number of artists who have stated how much they owe to the medium.

“Radio helped me a lot. That’s the audience. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there. I can’t reach out and touch them with my hand, but I know they’re there.”
— B.B. King, recording artist, 2002

A quick point-by-point synopsis of House Concurrent Resolution 244 :

  • Broadcast and Recording industries have existed in a symbiotic relationship for decades, to the benefit of both.
  • Congress has rejected calls for a performance fee for 80 years
  • Local radio provides free publicity in a variety of ways ranging from ticket giveaways and concert promotions to artist airplay.
  • Artist careers and sales of recordings have benefited massively from on-air play.
  • Millions of dollars worth of airtime are used for emergency services, sports, charitable causes and public affairs programming. This programming is in danger if revenues need to be diverted to pay new performance fees.
  • Economic hardship will not just be suffered by radio stations if the fees are enacted. They will affect live music venues, bars, restaurants, shopping centers and others.
  • Fees would not only be injurious to businesses, but ultimately to the American consumer as well.

It looks like the latest battle is soon to be joined. Contact your Congressman. If he or she already supports Resolution 244, say thanks. If not, tell him why he should. Do it for the sake of your small local stations and for up and coming artists everywhere!

Photo courtesy of Powi (ponanwi) used and remixed under this Creative Commons license


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