Growing Opposition to the Performance Rights Act


skullguitarPolitics, especially in recent years, is a pervasive and contentious subject. Much like the relationship between broadcasters and record labels, the people on both sides of the divide are passionate and highly vocal. As the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sponsored Performance Rights Act winds its way through Capitol Hill, we see these two contentious subjects merge with the energy of a meteor striking the Earth.

That said, I would like to extend my thanks to Representatives Bobby Rush (D-IL), John Adler (D-NJ), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Senators Susan Collins (ME), Thad Cochran (MS), and Johnny Isakson (GA) for joining the growing opposition to this attempt to inflict a new royalty structure on broadcasters. Their support for the Local Radio Freedom Act, which opposes the imposition of new royalty fees on broadcasters, is massively appreciated!

If you’ve missed the ongoing brouhaha, The Performance Rights Act aims to add royalty fees to the expenses that radio stations must meet. The rationale is that the performer of a song is entitled to compensation in the same way as the songwriter. On the surface, this seems to be an equitable approach, at least until you start to dig and discover that half of this money is going straight into record company coffers as opposed to the artists it purports to assist. The fact that those coffers are predominantly overseas is an economic factor that should give people pause.

The fact that 244 members of the House of Representatives and 23 Senators are now on record opposing this legislation is a positive sign, and the fact that support seems to be steadily growing is heartening.

Radio Online brings us a statement from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), who also sponsor this blog:

“Liberals, moderates and conservatives are uniting in opposition to RIAA’s effort to line the coffers of foreign record labels at the expense of America’s free and local radio stations,” said NAB Executive VP Dennis Wharton. “We salute these members of Congress for recognizing the unique role played by radio broadcasters in communities across the country.”

Now, one of the reasons I was brought on as a blogger here is that I am not the typical “corporate shill.” I’ve worked with underground art and music, community radio, college radio, and music production among other aspects of the industry and I have a personal passion for the medium and for new technology. I want that clear because I do not want to be mistaken in my position.

Throughout my experience, I have always heard nothing but praise for radio from the artists. Working with up-and-coming bands of all genres (rock, punk, folk, bluegrass, etc.), the one common thread has always been, “How can I get my music on the radio?” When working with international artists, the subject of radio always was greeted with jovial thanks for the role it played in making their careers. (When the record labels came up in conversation, however, the tone would usually take a turn for the highly acrimonious.)

Yes, artists should get paid. I’ve done activist work in the past on that subject. However, how different would the broadcast landscape be if they had to pay for the promotion airplay provides?  The fact that you can find innumerable examples of labels trying to illegally purchase airplay over the history of the medium (Google Payola) shows that they are aware of the incredible impact that radio play has on the success of their artists.

For an up-and-coming artist, the royalties proposed have potential to keep them off the airwaves as stations become less likely to spend money to play unproven acts. Rather than supporting creativity as it purports to, this legislation will create a barrier to entry for non-established performers.

Write to your Representatives and Senators and tell them to oppose this transparent effort by the record labels to finance their failing business model. If it does pass, I would suggest that the labels get charged for airplay; after all, it does provide a multimillion dollar a year service for them.

Photo: uzvards / CC BY-SA 2.0

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8 Responses to “Growing Opposition to the Performance Rights Act”

  1. LAS Says:

    [block]”On the surface, this seems to be an equitable approach, at least until you start to dig and discover that half of this money is going straight into record company coffers as opposed to the artists it purports to assist.”[/block]

    You’ve only managed to raise a red herring. Just as half the royalty money for sound recording performance would go to record companies, so half the money from performing rights royalties on musical compositions already goes to music publishers, not songwriters. So whether performance royalties are paid on musical compositions or sound recordings, or just one of them, the issue is the same. Moreover, it’s understandable that terrestrial radio doesn’t want to pay what digital radio already must, but it certainly isn’t equitable.

  2. Congress Links | Says:

    […] Growing opposition to the Performance Rights Act (Radio 2020). […]

  3. FRED Says:

    My station pays thousands of dollars each month to ASCAP and BMI.. where is that money going? And you wonder my so many stations are switching to the talk format? If stations stop playing music… I gotta feeling that music ain’t gonna sell so good. I could be wrong… but that makes sense to me.

  4. LAS Says:

    Where is the money you pay to ASCAP and BMI going? To publishers and songwriters. None of that money goes to performers or record companies. If broadcast radio stations stop playing music, perhaps “music ain’t gonna sell so good” (doubtful), but such stations will become irrelevant and people will turn more and more to cable, satellite and Internet stations (interactive and non) for their music, ALL of which ALREADY pay the sound recording performance royalty (as well as BMI & ASCAP).

    Why should broadcast radio get a free ride?

    This isn’t about freedom or anything like that. This is about radio stations not wanting to disturb their bottom line – totally understandable, but these are not fees that will bankrupt anyone.

  5. TA111 Says:

    I am against this bill as it adds another layer of fees onto the radio broadcasters. If artists can now get performance fees from radio-shouldn’t the artists in turn be required to pay the broadcasters a fee to play their songs much like advertisers do. Aren’t the radio stations “advertising” the artists so that people buy CD’s? This is a two-way street.

  6. George Williams Says:

    @TA11 I’ve been saying for awhile now that the labels expect something for free. As it is this is a tradeoff. Free airplay for them provides exposure and promotion. For radio it provides free content. Radio should charge for the airtime, but if that happens it erects a massive barrier for up and coming musicians (or even just poor ones).

    @LAS One notable thing: I was against the enacting of a fee on Internet broadcasts for the exact same reasons. It was pushed through because of the argument that broadcast vs. Internet was an “apples and oranges comparison.” Of course now that is being used as a precedent for enacting the same royalty structure on broadcast, an “apples and apples comparison.” I’m sorry but the long term chain of logic is flawed. The same is true for digital radio.

  7. Radio Stations Owner Says:

    My company owns a small group of radio stations in rural America. Our lead station helps support the rest from going under and closing down. Each station is run professionally and provides a variety of entertainment, so that there is a choice other than just country music.

    Unlike a cheaply run (out of someone’s bedroom) internet station, Broadcast stations have enormous monthly bills to pay. Just to name a few, The ELECTRIC BILL, PAYROLL, REPAIRS TO EQUIPMENT, FCC FILING AND SPECTRUM FEES, BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, OFFICE BUILDINGs and SUPPLIES, TAXES…ETC, ETC. Plus we have to worry about being legal with all the FCC regulations, including EEO. Remember we have to answer to and serve our Communities of license, public affairs programming, local sports, etc. We have to provide notifications of Emergency Alerts, do free fund raising events for charities, etc. All this takes money to make it happen.

    We make our money by selling advertising time to pay for the bills mentioned above. We already provide FREE promotion of new and re-issued CDs and upcoming concerts for their performers, I think the labels owe radio for the airtime they get now. After all the local car dealer, restaurant and grocery store advertiser are paying for airtime, record labels need to pay us too.

    ENOUGH IS ENOUGH… after this royality issue is defeated in Congress, Radio Broadcasters need to go after RIAA and others who hide behind royalities and copyrights. They are the abusers and they need to be investigated. The artists are the ones being screwed, let’s see what the record labels do with the money they should be paying to the artists.

    Radio Broadcaster who can still support a news department, how about some investigative reporting and undercover work to find out the real truth about this push from RIAA for performance fees during the last 2 years.

  8. Barry Says:

    Bottom line: We are set to go to a talk format if this passes. We can’t afford it. Artists need to wake up and realize all the perks, the interviews, the free publicity that stations have given them over the years. We have sold their products for them. Some are predicting that 95 percent of all stations will be going talk or going down.

    The industry is collapsing before our eyes. The artists are cutting themselves off.

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