The following op/ed comes from Michael Huppe, President & CEO of US performance rights organization, SoundExchange.
In late December, a united recording industry pushed hard to advance the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA), a bill to finally pay artists for AM/FM radio plays in the U.S. Broadcast corporations may comfort themselves that Congress, in the end, didn’t act on AMFA.
But let’s make one thing clear: the fact that Congress came so close to passing the legislation is a harbinger that the era when multi-million-dollar corporations like iHeart, Audacy, Cumulus, and others can deny economic justice to creators is ending.
Congressional leaders nearly included the performance royalty legislation in a package of initiatives it passed on the final days of the session but couldn’t reach an agreement. That AMFA was fully in-play despite the fierce opposition of iHeart and its lobbying arm, the National Association of Broadcasters, highlights their industry’s waning ability to prevent the inevitable.
For years, Big Radio has followed the same cynical formula. Convince lawmakers to sign on to a symbolic, non-binding resolution that labels performance royalties – otherwise known as payments to artists for their hard work – as a “tax.” Then have the audacity to insist that music creators accept the no-payments status quo as “mutually beneficial.” And finally, they’d claim that having to pay royalties would devastate small broadcasters.
Each of those claims was exposed this year as desperate spoofs of corporate behemoths on the wrong side of history. First, that symbolic “resolution” of the bogus Local Radio Freedom Act was revealed as toothless when multiple lawmakers who sponsored it also supported the very real, actual legislation in support of AM/FM performance royalties. It’s possible to support both because paying artists a fair wage is the furthest thing from a “tax.”
Second, broadcasters’ insistence that the performers they stiff should just sit quiet and happy was drowned out by the legions of artists who rallied around AMFA. These artists had the courage to stand up to Big Radio, and they demonstrated that corporate broadcasters are the real beneficiaries of the current arrangement.
Third, community broadcasters came out in support of the legislation. “The idea that people need to choose between supporting community radio stations and supporting fair pay for artists is a false choice,” declared the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. They represented the true voice of local broadcasters, who were solidly and permanently protected through carveouts in the AMFA legislation.
Most telling of all, even legislators who had previously been skeptical of these royalties agree it’s time. “It’s up to us … to ensure that creators, including writers and performers of musical works, are treated fairly under the law. It’s critically important that Congress get these issues right,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is in line to become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee this year.
To quote Bob Dylan, “the times, they are a ‘changin’.”
This weakening of the broadcasters’ position has been a long time coming. It’s been 34 years since Frank Sinatra raised this issue of economic justice for music creators and over 80 years since artists sued to resist exploitation by the earliest radio stations. It’s about time that broadcasters share a fair portion of the hundreds of billions of dollars in ad revenues they’ve made using these recordings for almost a century. (This would also liberate the hundreds of millions of dollars U.S. musicians are denied overseas because of the American situation.)
Music creators found their voice as the last Congress was closing its business for the year. Rapper Common put it best: “Fairly compensating people for their hard work is a fundamental principle. Refusing to do so is morally wrong, especially when these big companies are making more than enough money to share some with the workers who made those profits possible.” Hundreds of artists across the music spectrum joined their names to the cause, including Common, Randy Travis, Gloria Estefan, Dionne Warwick, Max Weinberg, and Sammy Hagar. And we saw support from organizations as diverse as AFL-CIO to the Center for Individual Freedom.
“If broadcast corporations think music creators and those who truly support them will be deterred by this turn of events, they are wrong.”
This herculean effort occurred because music creators know what is at stake. Broadcasters’ failure to pay not only harms American artists at home but is used as an excuse by other countries, such as France, to deny payment for music played overseas. Enough is enough.
So, if broadcast corporations think music creators and those who truly support them will be deterred by this turn of events, they are wrong. Instead, we are buoyed and inspired. By the thousands of music creators who spoke with one voice for economic justice. By the community broadcasters – the radio stations that truly care about local artists – who stood with us. And by the growing chorus of congressional leaders – on both sides of the aisle, and both sides of the issue – who realize the time has come to make this happen.
Our cause is only gaining momentum. We know that we are on the right side of history. Coming so close to getting AMFA enacted into law will only embolden us to work harder with a new Congress in place.
Artists won’t stop fighting until these large broadcast corporations pay fairly for music – because it’s the right thing to do. Music Business Worldwide