The View from DC
By Ted Kalo, c3 Interim Executive Director
As we enter 2018, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee begins its 6th year reviewing the copyright laws that govern royalties and rights for artists and songwriters. It’s a year with enormous potential for real gains as Members of Congress are looking to pass legislation very soon.
And there’s a recent development that helps our chances. A large and diverse group of music advocacy organizations (including c3) are standing together to support the pro-music creator legislation that would benefit performers, songwriters, record labels, publishers, and producers.
But our opponents are powerful special interests. So, the only way to beat them and get Congress to pass real reforms to help artists in the digital age is to stand together and fight their army of lobbyists as one united music community.
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Why is this such a big development? Until now, there has been a split between groups representing music publishers and songwriters on one hand, and record labels and performers on the other hand.
Performers and record labels want an end to AM/FM radio’s sweetheart deal, which allows them to not pay royalties to performers and labels at all. But since Frank Sinatra first started this fight in the 1950s, the big radio lobby, the National Association of Broadcasters (“NAB”), has been spending tens of millions of dollars a year to kill common sense reforms that would make big radio pay for the music they use.
Additionally, performers are fighting to protect older artists by ensuring that they are paid for digital airplay of pre-1972 music (the “CLASSICS Act”) and end the sweetheart deal for the multibillion dollar satellite radio industry, which allows Sirius to pay artists less than they are due.
And while performers and record labels have been working to build support for their agenda in Congress, songwriters and publishers pinned their hopes on the U.S. Justice Department approving changes to the archaic antitrust “consent decree” requirements that govern mechanical licensing and songwriter performance royalties. After learning of the disappointing and wrong Justice Department results, publishers and songwriters now have a new proposal, the “Music Modernization Act.” Parts of it are also opposed by the NAB.
Today, songwriters and publishers are once again locking arms with performers and record labels. That’s good. After all, I’ve yet to meet a musician who doesn’t support fair pay for songwriters or a songwriter who doesn’t support fair pay for musicians.
Still, whether the AM/FM Performance right will be included in the final package remains up in the air.
Why? House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a driving force behind music licensing reform efforts, has sought consensus. To meet that goal, the music industry and the NAB have been engaged in closed door negotiations for over a year. The broad outlines of what such a deal would look like have been widely known for over a decade: AM/FM broadcasters would give up some terrestrial revenues in exchange for a break on digital streaming royalties.
Those contours of a deal may have made sense ten years ago, but AM/FM radio now appears to be a shrinking (possibly dying) medium and, therefore, a shrinking source of revenue. At the same time, streaming is growing and, therefore, a growing source of revenue for music creators (but one that isn’t growing enough — that’s another matter). Many sensibly whisper that what once might have been a fair trade is now trading yesterday’s dollars for tomorrow’s. That horse trading is a required at all is yet another indication that our political system is broken.
Even as the fight for an AM/FM performance right continues, there’s a chance for real gains now: fair pay for older artists, better pay for all performers when music is played on SiriusXM, and critical reforms to help songwriters. We can get this done if we stick together.