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U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Thursday (Sept. 22) introduced a companion bill to the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA), the House legislation that would require AM/FM stations to pay performance royalties to music creators and copyright holders for radio airplay in the U.S.
“From Beale Street to Music Row to the hills of East Tennessee, the Volunteer State’s songwriters have undeniably made their mark,” said Sen. Blackburn in a statement. “However, while broadcasters demand compensation for the content they create and distribute, they don’t apply this view to the songwriters, artists, and musicians whose music they play on the radio without paying royalties. Tennessee’s creators deserve to be compensated for their work This legislation will ensure that they receive fair payment and can keep the great hits coming.”
Sen. Padilla added, “For too long, our laws have unfairly denied artists the right to receive fair compensation for their hard work and talent on AM/FM broadcasts. California’s artists have played a pivotal role in enriching and diversifying our country’s music scene. That is why passing the American Music Fairness Act is so important. It’s time we treat our musical artists with the dignity and respect they deserve for the music they produce and we enjoy every day.”
The House bill was introduced in June 2021 by Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Darrell Isa (R-CA) and unveiled at a press conference outside Capitol Hill that featured Dionne Warwick, Sam Moore and Dropkick Murphys singer/bassist Ken Casey. It has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the American Federation of Musicians, the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), SAG-AFTRA and SoundExchange.
Unlike satellite/online radio and streaming services, AM/FM stations pay only songwriter royalties on the music they broadcast. The AMFA would establish fair market value for radio performance royalties in the same way it has been for those other platforms.
Both versions of the AMFA would also compel radio stations based in other countries to pay U.S.-based artists when their songs are played overseas. That provision accounts for the common practice among non-U.S. radio stations of avoiding paying performance royalties to American artists — even when the countries where they operate require them — by exploiting the AM/FM loophole in U.S. law.
Additionally, both the House and Senate versions of the AMFA include protections for songwriters to alleviate fears that songwriter royalties would be undermined by the legislation.
The AMFA was partially a response to the Local Radio Freedom Act, a non-binding resolution introduced in May 2021 by Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) that opposes performance royalties for radio, arguing it would be financially devastating for broadcasters. A companion resolution to the bill was introduced in the Senate by Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and John Barrasso (R-WY). Both are backed by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has long been opposed to enforcing a performance royalty payout for terrestrial radio.
Last month, the NAB announced that 222 representatives and 28 Senators had come aboard to cosponsor the Local Radio Freedom Act. In a statement at the time, NAB president and CEO Curtis LeGeyt said the imposition of a performance royalty would “greatly damage” the “decades-long relationship” between recording artists and broadcasters. Opponents of these performance royalties have long argued that AM/FM stations provide what amounts to free publicity for artists by playing their music and that they should not be compelled to pay out money on top of that.
In response to the NAB’s August announcement, Congressman Joe Crowley, who serves as chairman of the musicFIRST Coalition, called it “meaningless” and characterized the Local Radio Freedom Act as “a purely symbolic resolution that cannot become law or do anything for local radio stations.” He noted that because the resolution is non-binding, it doesn’t prevent any of its cosponsors from also supporting the AMFA, adding that four lawmakers sponsor both. Later in his statement, he nodded to a provision that would allow stations that earn less than $1.5 million in annual revenue (and whose parent companies make less than $10 million per year overall) to pay just $2 per day for the right to play unlimited music. Meanwhile, the AMFA would allow college and other small, noncommercial stations to pay as little as $10 per year.
The AMFA is only the most recent attempt by members of Congress to force radio stations to pay performance royalties, a common practice in other countries but one that has not historically been required in the U.S. In Nov. 2019, Blackburn and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced a similar bill called the Ask Musicians for Music Act, which would have allowed artists and copyright owners to negotiate performance royalty rates with radio stations in exchange for permission to play their music. That legislation followed a previous bill, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act — also introduced by Blackburn and Nadler — that was aimed at the same goal.
The House version of the AMFA received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee in February and is currently moving through the committee process.
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