Broadcasters victorious as radio bill gains 219 sponsors

A broadcaster-backed effort to keep local radio stations from paying musicians for songs has gained the support of more than half of the House of Representatives.

As some members push measures that would require AM/FM radio stations to pay for the songs they play, 219 members of the House have signed onto the Local Radio Freedom Act.

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That resolution — introduced by Reps. Michael Conway (R-Texas) and Gene Green (D-Texas) early last year — prohibits "any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge” on local AM/FM radio stations.

The Senate companion resolution was introduced last year by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) has 12 other senators backing it.

Though AM/FM radio stations do not currently have to pay artists for songs the stations broadcast, some members of Congress are pushing bills that would require radio stations to pay these “royalty fees.”

Advocates for radio royalty fees say the current system creates an uneven playing field between AM/FM radio stations and other radio stations, such as satellite and Internet radio services. 

Opponents say a law requiring radio stations to pay royalty fees would overlook the fact that artists gain exposure through the free advertising that AM/FM radio stations provide.

According to the National Association of Broadcasters, the large number of supporters backing the Local Radio Freedom Act indicates that many in Congress agree that radio royalty fees aren’t needed.

“This resolution reaffirms Congress's appreciation for the public service and economic benefits radio broadcasters provide to every community, while recognizing the mutually beneficial relationship between radio and performing artists,” the group’s CEO Gordon Smith said in a statement.

But those looking to create a royalty fee for AM/FM radio stations say the fight isn’t over.

Ted Kalo, executive director of the musicFIRST coalition, said that his group is “confident many of these 'cosponsors' also support” royalty fees for radio stations.

"Signing onto a commemorative resolution, most commonly used to honor sports teams and name post offices, is an empty gesture and hardly a reliable barometer of support,” he said in a statement.

“This is particularly true when the resolution itself hides its position in the fine print.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) — ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property and supporter of radio royalty efforts — said he is optimistic about efforts to require radio stations to pay these fees.

“There is a growing recognition that the lack of a performance right is patently unfair, and I am confident that many of us in Congress will continue to fight to correct this injustice,” he said in a statement.

Nadler pointed to the numbers of developed countries that pay radio royalty fees, noting that the U.S. is among Iran, North Korea and China in the group of countries that don’t pay musicians when radio stations play their songs.

“The performance rights issue is a matter of fundamental fairness,” he said. “Quite simply, artists should be compensated for their work.”