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US Congressional committee to consider latest radio royalty proposal this week

By | Published on Monday 5 December 2022

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The Judiciary Committee of the US House Of Representatives will this week discuss the proposed American Music Fairness Act which would introduce a radio royalty for recordings into American copyright law for the first time.

The US is very unusual in that music radio stations broadcasting on AM or FM there only need to get licences covering the song rights, paying royalties through the collective licensing system to songwriters and music publishers. A limitation on the sound recording copyright under US law means no licences are required from, and no royalties need to be paid to, the record industry.

Artists and labels have been trying to get this changed for years, but the radio lobby is powerful in Washington and has successfully defeated previous attempts to bring US copyright law in line with other countries on this point. The usual argument is that radio airplay is valuable promo for artists and labels, so radio stations shouldn’t have to pay royalties into the record industry as well.

Earlier this year, the current chair of the Judiciary Committee in the House Of Representatives, Jerry Nadler, spoke in support of the latest attempts to get artists and labels a radio royalty, that being the American Music Fairness Act. And now his committee will formally discuss the proposals via a process known as ‘markup’.

Welcoming that development, Joe Crowley – a former Congress member and current Chair of the musicFIRST Coalition, which has long campaigned for a radio royalty – said: “The House Judiciary Committee’s decision to hold this markup is yet another sign of the growing momentum for music fairness on Capitol Hill. Our movement towards equity for artists has grown in strength because people grasp its basic principle: That Americans deserve payment for their work”.

“The American Music Fairness Act ends a decades-long injustice of not paying artists performance royalties when their songs are played on AM/FM radio”, he added. “It’s not complicated: Everyone, including artists, should be paid fairly for their hard work. I am confident that my former colleagues will stand firmly behind this bedrock American value and support artists in this crucial moment”.

However, the radio industry continues its efforts to block any new royalty to artists and labels. It even has its own rival proposals, the Local Radio Freedom Act, which would basically keep everything the same. The main aim of those proposals is to get Congress members to publicly declare their opposition to any new radio royalty by confirming their support of that act.

“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”, National Association Of Broadcasters CEO Curtis LeGeyt said last week.

The NAB reckons the American Music Fairness Act is an unworkable one-sided proposal that would “upend the relationship between artists and broadcast radio”.

Noting that the current session of the US Congress is reaching its conclusion following the recent elections, LeGeyt added: “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”.