Administration backs song royalties bill

The Obama administration Thursday expressed "strong support" for legislation that would require radio stations to pay additional royalty fees to singers, marking the administration's first public position on the highly contentious fight between broadcasters and musicians.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Commerce Department's general counsel called for passage of the Performance Rights Act to change a provision in the copyright law that currently exempts broadcasters from paying royalties to performers. Other broadcaters -- including satellite and web radio services -- already pay royalties to singers.

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Terrestrial broadcasters currently only pay royalties to songwriters. The National Association of Broadcasters argues that playing songs on the air provides free promotion for bands and performers. NAB also says imposing new royalties will worsen the economic hardship faced by broadcasters hit with declining advertising revenues.

MusicFirst, a coalition of music industry groups and artists, says it is only fair that broadcasters pay the same royalties as other music services, especially now that the music industry has changed so much.

The bill "addresses a long-standing ommission in U.S. copyright law that may have harmed American performers and record companies," wrote Cameron Kerry of the Commerce Department. "If enacted, the bill would advance public welfare by compensating American performers and the record companies that produce and distribute their creative works."


"The Obama Administration is the latest, but not the first to support congressional efforts to close the loophole in copyright law that allows radio sations to earn billions without compensating the artists, musicians and rights holders who bring music to life and listeners' ears to the radio dial," said Marty Machoswky of MusicFirst.

Dennis Wharton of NAB said he is "disappointed the Commerce Department would embrace legislation that would kill jobs in the U.S. and send hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign record labels that have historically exploited artists whose careers were nurtured by American radio stations."