Performance Payment Bill Introduced

As they signaled last week, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) Monday introduced a bill that would create a public performance right (broadcasters call it a tax).

Currently, broadcasters pay a blanket license to music rights groups, but argue that airplay is a fair exchange, and valuable compensation, for individual performances.

The Fair Play Fair Pay Act of 2015 would also allow musicians and record labels to collect royalties on individual airplay on radio.

It also creates, or attempts to according to its sponsors, cross-platform parity for payments through a "willing seller, willing buyer" standard judges could use to arbitrate rates.

The bill also requires royalty payments for some pre-1972 recordings not currently recognized as getting compensation.

The National Association of Broadcasters is strongly opposed to the bill, and similar performance royalty legislation it has successfully fended off in the past.

“Thanks to Reps. Nadler and Blackburn, we stand at the doorway of an incredible opportunity – a once-in-a-generation chance to make radio work better for music creators, radio services, and, most importantly, music fans," said the MusicFIRST coalition, which represents artists and record labels that have pushed for the bill.

The Future of Music Coalition, a nonprofit advocating for "fair compensation," said it wished the bill had gone further, including compensating all pre-1972 recordings, and said that the rate parity portion will need examining. But it was generally happy for any movement toward its goal of per-performance payments. "[W]e support the goal of greater harmony in music licensing and artist compensation," the group said.

The bill announcement came the same day that broadcasters, radio and Television, were gathered for the opening of the NAB Show in Las Vegas. It also came in advance of the Recording Academy's April 15 Grammys on the Hill effort to impress the importance of the music business on Washington.

An NAB spokesman had nothing to add to the association's statement last week about the expected introduction of the bill.

NAB says radio is the "number one promotional tool for record labels and performers," while a performance rights payment (they call it a tax) "could financially cripple local radio stations, putting jobs at risk, stifling new artists trying to break into the business and harming the more than 240 million Americans who rely on local radio."

The bill is bipartisan, but mostly Democrat-backed. Republican Marsha Blackburn has historically been a strong advocate for musicians given that her state is home to the thriving Nashville music scene.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.