On May 7, 2014, Representatives Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced H.R. 4588, the Protecting the Rights of Musicians Act [PDF], which aims to get performers and labels paid when their music is played on AM/FM radio.
This proposed legislation is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it demonstrates the growing bipartisan consensus that performing artists deserve compensation when their music is used in over-the-air broadcasts. Second, it shows how members of Congress who have disagreed on many issues—including the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)—can come together to do the right thing by creators.
For more than a decade, FMC has been banging the drum for a public performance right on AM/FM radio. Due to a loophole in existing copyright law, broadcasters in the US are not obligated to pay performers a single penny for the use of their work. This is in contrast to pretty much every developed nation on the planet (notable exceptions include Iran and North Korea). This means that not only are our artists not getting paid when their music is broadcast in America, but also that they can’t collect what’s owed to them for overseas plays. Can you think of another valuable export that the US would give away on the global stage with no expectation of remuneration?
There’s also the fact that digital radio pays everyone: performers, labels, songwriters and publishers. Only AM/FM is exempt from paying performers. This doesn’t seem fair to us. We’re glad that members of Congress think so, too.
As Rep. Blackburn said in her statement about the bill:
“This is a basic issue of modernizing the law to get rid of a dated loophole that only applies to AM/FM radio. Internet radio pays music creators fair market value for their performances, satellite radio pays music creators for performances, cable and satellite TV/radio stations pay music creators for their performances. Everyone but AM/FM radio pays.”
Also notable is how the Protecting the Rights of Musicians Act would go about paying artists for radio broadcasts.
The proposed legislation would accomplish this goal by prohibiting radio broadcasters that also owned TV stations from collecting “retransmission consent” monies. So what is retransmission consent? Basically, it’s a set of agreements between TV networks and cable companies that allow the TV folks to get paid when cable carries their signals. These deals are typically renegotiated every few years—in fact, it was at a hearing on retransmission where the nascent alliance between Reps. Blackburn and Eshoo was forged.
FMC appreciates any and all efforts to get artists paid for the use of their music. We do, however, have a few questions about the implementation of this bill.
First off, not every radio outlet is owned by a TV broadcaster (and vice versa). So does that mean that other AM/FM broadcasters are off the hook? We think everybody that uses music should pay something, although we recognize the need for rate structures that don’t disadvantage noncommerical and educational broadcasters who do so much to highlight local and independent music.
Second, we wonder about the mechanisms of payment. The way it goes for digital “radio” is as follows: featured artists get 45 percent, backing musicians 5 percent, and sound copyright owners (usually the label, but sometimes the artist) 50 percent. This money is collected and distributed by the nonprofit SoundExchange. For this bill to gain traction, it would have to clearly describe how artists would be paid. We strongly prefer the system overseen by SoundExchange, which is equitable, direct and more transparent than most royalty structures.
Still, we see the Protecting the Rights of Musicians Act as an important symbol of the growing consensus on both sides of the aisle that musicians must be paid for their work. Keep your eyes rght here—we’ll be reporting back on developments.