There's nothing local about the Local Radio Freedom Act
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In recent years, Washington has made great strides to support music creators. When Congress passed the Music Modernization Act (MMA) in 2018, our leaders showed us they value music and care about ensuring that artists are being treated fairly. But the historic passage of the MMA wasn’t a panacea for every issue music creators face. While it was an important step in the right direction, music creators are still fighting every day just to be compensated fairly for their hard work.

Hans Christian Andersen famously said, “When words fail, music speaks,” but can music really speak when the voices of music creators are being drowned-out? Artfully misleading policy language and massive lobbying efforts shouldn’t keep leaders in Washington from hearing the artists who create the music we know and love.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening as the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) continues to recruit support for the Local Radio Freedom Act (LRFA). Like so many efforts in Congress, LRFA has quite a ring to it. But despite their claims to the contrary, this non-binding resolution isn’t about protecting small, local broadcasters at all. It’s about guaranteeing a multi-billion-dollar industry doesn’t have to pay a dime for the hard work they use to generate their own profits. At its core, LRFA is a misguided effort with a misleading name that helps protect an outdated subsidy for billion-dollar broadcasters at the expense of hard-working artists.

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Streaming services, satellite radio and other popular platforms all pay music creators for their work. That begs the question, why is terrestrial radio the only remaining holdout? It’s certainly not for lack of resources. Recently, iHeartMedia - one of the biggest broadcasters in the country - reported more than $3.5 billion in revenue for 2019. There are a small number of broadcasting companies who own hundreds of stations in markets of all sizes across the country. iHeart is one of them. This small group has an incredible amount of power over the policies embraced by broadcasters because they are responsible for generating nearly half of the radio industry’s $17 billion in annual revenue. They know that it would be a hit to their bottom line to pay artists so despite the profits they make every year, the industry staunchly refuses to compensate music creators fairly for their work.

In principle, even the NAB supports the idea that those who create content deserve to be paid fairly when their work is used. Last summer during the STELAR Reauthorization debate, Gordon Smith, the president of the NAB, made virtually the same arguments to Congress that music creators make. He just made them on behalf of broadcasters. If broadcasters are entitled to negotiate fair rates for their content, retransmission consent and the end of a harmful subsidy for a different billion-dollar industry, why aren’t music creators entitled to the same considerations?

While broadcasters are trying to advance LRFA to pad their bottom line at the expense of music creators, artists are advocating for a solution that won’t come at someone else’s expense. Music creators support a solution that treats community radio differently than big broadcasters. Large broadcasters would pay similar rates to streaming services, satellite radio and other platforms, finally helping to level the playing field. AM/FM stations with annual revenues below 1 million dollars would only pay $500 a year for the music they play. Public, college and other noncommercial stations would only pay $100 per year and religious and talk radio would be exempt.

This is an issue of fairness. When a music creators’ work is played on AM/FM radio in the U.S., they aren’t paid for it. And broadcasters are using their hard work to generate significant profits.

It’s time for the U.S. to join the rest of the developed world in recognizing a terrestrial performance right for music creators. We need to fix a broken system that protects a multi-billion-dollar industry at the expense of hard-working artists. Fairness is a principle at the core of our American values. If our leaders want to show that they value music and those who create it, they must reject the Local Radio Freedom Act.

Allison Fastow is director of the musicFIRST Coalition, which supports paying music creators when their work is played on any platform.