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Politicians and artists use MMA anniversary to again call for radio royalties on recordings in the US

By | Published on Tuesday 12 October 2021

US Congress

Three years after the US Music Modernization Act was signed into law by then President Donald Trump, a former Congress member who co-sponsored those copyright reforms has put out a statement calling for one other big change to be made to American copyright law: getting artists and labels a royalty right when their recordings are played on AM/FM radio.

The final Music Modernization Act actually aggregated a number of different proposals that had been made in Congress to deal with various quirks of American copyright law that the music industry wanted changing. Those reforms dealt with things like: the payment of mechanical royalties on the songs side when music is streamed, the pre-1972 technicality that meant services like Pandora and Sirius weren’t paying royalties on pre-1972 recordings, and how studio producers share in the monies collected by US collecting society SoundExchange.

However, perhaps the biggest quirk in American copyright law was not dealt with. That being the limitation on the sound recording copyright which means that – unlike the song copyright in the US, and the recording copyright in most other countries – the owners of sound recordings Stateside do not enjoy full performing rights over their recorded music. Which means, among other things, AM/FM radio stations do not need a licence from – nor do they pay royalties to – the record industry, ie artists and labels.

The US record industry has been fighting for a change to copyright law that would force radio stations to pay royalties for decades. However, it was left out of the Music Modernization Act package because those proposals are strongly opposed by the US radio industry, which has considerable support in Washington. The fear was, if getting radio royalties for artists and labels had been included in the MMA, the entire package of reforms would have been voted down.

This means that the fight for radio royalties continues, most recently centring on legislative proposals called the American Music Fairness Act. Meanwhile, the radio industry is still lobbying for support for its Local Radio Freedom Act, a somewhat bizarre new law that would seek to change nothing. Though that’s really a campaign tool for the broadcasters, because anyone who formally supports the Local Radio Freedom Act is also opposing the American Music Fairness Act.

The former Congress member speaking out in favour of the American Music Fairness Act on the third anniversary of the Music Modernization Act was Joe Crowley, who said yesterday: “Three years ago today, America took a huge step forward in the fight for fairness in the music industry when the Music Modernization Act was signed into law. As the way we consume music changed drastically in the last decade, I was proud to be a co-sponsor of the bill to ensure artists were compensated when their music was streamed on digital platforms”.

“Unfortunately, we still have much more to do to win the fight for music fairness”, he added. “While the MMA changed how we compensate artists for digital streams, it left the loophole for AM/FM radio airplay intact. For decades, radio corporations have filled their airwaves with artists’ music while escaping the responsibility of paying for this work. It’s time to end this injustice”.

“I know my former colleagues are committed to fighting for everyday working Americans, and musicians deserve the same dignity and respect”, he concluded. “To build on the legacy of the MMA and to truly modernise the music industry, Congress must pass the American Music Fairness Act and ensure multi-billion-dollar radio corporations pay their fair share to the music creators who make the soundtrack to our lives”.

Lobbying group the musicFIRST Coalition continues to lead the campaign in Washington for a radio royalty for recordings, frequently recruiting music-makers to also speak out in favour of that particular copyright reform. This time – as Crowley spoke up on the politician side – Sam Moore issued a statement on behalf of the music community, he having been one of the musicians in the White House when Trump signed the MMA into law three years ago.

“The Music Modernization Act was a historic moment for all of the American artists and music-makers of all genres”, his statement reads. “I was honoured to be present at the White House when the bill was signed into law. For those of us who created music and performed as recording artists prior to 1972, this law made it possible for us to finally get some of the compensation for those performances we’d created and deserved”.

“For me and my peers and their surviving families – many of whom were struggling financially despite long and successful careers in music – this was a godsend. But the fight to make sure all American artists get everything they deserve is far from over”, he adds. “The Music Modernization Act made important strides toward fairness in digital streaming, but it didn’t touch AM/FM radio”.

That means, he says, the big corporations that own the majority of the radio stations in the US “are continuing to get paid billions of dollars in advertising revenues from the broadcast of our performances and they aren’t paying a penny to us, the people who performed on those recordings, giving them the essence of our souls and our talents”.

“That’s just wrong, plain and simple”, he concludes. “I’m honoured to be fighting alongside Congressman Crowley, my friends in the musicFIRST Coalition, and so many of my fellow artists, to pass the American Music Fairness Act and finally right this wrong, once and for all”.