Music industry eyes House changes

The music industry is preparing for changes on the House Judiciary Committee, as Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) is set to leave.

Watt, ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property, was confirmed as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency earlier this month and is set to assume his new role on Jan. 6.

According to committee procedure, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is next in line for Watt’s ranking member spot on the intellectual property subcommittee, should he want the position.

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Ted Kalo, executive director of the MusicFIRST Coalition, praised Watt for his Free Market Royalty Act, which would require AM/FM radio stations to negotiate with musicians for the rights to play their songs.

Currently, AM/FM radio stations pay nothing to play musicians’ songs, while cable, satellite and Internet radio services must pay royalty fees to play each song, which are set by the Library of Congress’s Copyright Royalty Board.

The bill’s opponents say that AM/FM radio stations provide musicians with free advertising by playing their songs and any negotiations to pay fees for the songs should happen in the free market.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) is currently a co-sponsor of the bill. After Watt's departure, any member can take the lead with Watt's bill or reintroduce the bill, according to a committee aide.

Watt’s bill was one example of his being “a stalwart supporter” of intellectual property rights, Kalo said.

“He was a true believer that the loophole” for AM/FM radio stations “was an injustice that needed to be fixed a long time ago.”

Watt leaving congress “is a huge loss to the Judiciary Committee,” Kalo said.

Industry groups are also voicing early support for Nadler, who is currently the ranking member on the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.

One industry spokesperson called Nadler “a good champion of intellectual property issues.”

Industry representatives pointed to a discussion draft Nadler circulated last year that would direct the Copyright Royalty Board to charge AM/FM radio stations more, if they want to air their programs over the Internet as well.

In his statement introducing the discussion draft, Nadler called the lack of fees for AM/FM stations “a violation of fundamental principles of intellectual property.”

Kalo said Nadler “is still looking closely” at the issue.

The music industry is expecting Nadler “to continue to show support for many core concerns, including equitable compensation on digital and over-the-air broadcast platforms,” Casey Rae, interim executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, said.

Nadler has support from a range of players in the music industry, Rae said.

“It's not just the big entertainment companies that would welcome a Nadler chairmanship,” he said. “Independent labels have a good relationship with him, as he recognizes that sector's contribution to the American export market.”

Nadler would also be “a strong voice” on the intellectual property subcommittee as the Judiciary Committee continues its ongoing reassessment of copyright law, Rae said.