What is the Performance Rights Act?
Every time you stop the dial to listen to an artist’s distinctive voice, radio stations make money by selling advertising around it. But corporate radio doesn’t pay a cent to the musicians, vocalists, and recording artists or labels who make the sound that brings in listeners – and money. The Performance Right Act (H.R. 848) would require radio stations to compensate recording artists and copyright owners when they use music, comedy, spoken word, or other recording to make money, just like they compensate songwriters. For the first time, recording artists would see a piece of the massive profits made on the backs of their creative work.
The better question is how this loophole, which lets AM and FM radio stations exploit musicians, has survived for so long. There’s been a push to change this law for more than 40 years, but corporate radio isn’t giving up their free gravy train without a fight. Now, more than ever, with music coming from all kinds of sources, radio should be held to the same standard as its competitors. It’s time for AM and FM radio to pay artists and copyright owners fairly.
Who Pays Now?
Terrestrial (AM&FM) radio’s competitors – Internet, satellite, and cable radio – all pay a performance right when they use the creative property of artists and rights owners. In addition, every industrialized country except the United States has a performance right. That means when American-made music is played overseas, other countries collect royalties for, but don’t pay American artists, because we don’t collect for their artists here. AM/FM radio has long been required to pay songwriters, but have so far succeeded in stiffing the artists who bring recordings to life. H.R. 848 would change that at last.
Performance royalties would mean a better life for artists, who often struggle to make ends meet while others get rich from their creative property. A performance right would ensure that artists are justly paid, and finally put the stereotype of the ‘starving artist’ in the past, -where it belongs.
What about small, low-revenue, non-profit, and minority-owned stations?
The Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848) contains an amendment which creates a sliding scale for low-revenue broadcasters. Three-quarters of all radio stations, including 90% of all African American-owned commercial music radio stations, would never pay more than $420 a month for all the music they can play. Public, college radio and nonprofit religious stations would pay about $85 a month. There are sensible solutions out there for small and non-profit stations, and those agreements don’t have to mean compromising the rights of artists.
No! Corporate radio has wrongly labeled performance royalties a “tax.” No money is going to the government here, but to the creators of sound recordings – the lifeblood of any radio station. No other business in the world claims they should make a profit without paying for the raw materials they use – bakers pay for flour, designers pay for cloth, corporate radio should pay for music. Ending this loophole would mean an even playing field for all broadcasters, and an overdue end to unpaid exploitation of artists.