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Rep. Watt Introduces Radio Performance Right Legislation

True to his word, Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) has introduced a bill that would require broadcasters to pay a performance right for playing music on their radio stations.

Broadcasters pay a blanket license to music writers and publishers, but the quid pro quo for artists has always been the promotional value of that airplay.

"The Free Market Royalty Act (FMRA) ... creates a 'performance right' that will obligate AM/FM radio stations to compensate performers for the use of their music just as cable, satellite and internet radio are obligated to do," said Watt in announcing the bill.

Actually he signaled the bill last month in a hearing on satellite TV legislation. He made the point that TV broadcasters were pushing for compensation for their signals, while radio broadcasters were attempting to deny compensation to performers for the content they created.

"NAB respectfully opposes the legislation, and appreciates the support of 183 members of Congress who stand with America's hometown radio stations against the offshore record labels," said the National Association of Broadcasters.

"NAB believes market-based negotiations like the recent Warner Music-Clear Channel accord demonstrate that this issue is already being addressed in the free market. This legislation would impose new costs on broadcasters that jeopardize the future of our free over-the-air service," he said. He also pointed to five new sponsors of a resolution — now with 171 co-sponsors — that opposes a new performance fee or tax on local radio.

Watt countered that Clear Channel Chairman and CEO Bob Pittman had said that promotion was not adequate compensation and that those individual deals instead highlight "the uneven patchwork of rights that infects any effort to negotiate in the market as it stands today."