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Artists rally behind American Music Fairness Act ahead of Congressional meeting

By | Published on Wednesday 7 December 2022


40 more artists have added their names to an open letter calling on lawmakers in the US to support the American Music Fairness Act, which would force AM/FM radio stations in the country to pay royalties to artists and labels for the first time. The additional signatories were revealed ahead of a session of the Judiciary Committee of the US House Of Representatives later today which will discuss those proposed copyright reforms.

US copyright law is unusual in that it does not provide full performing rights for sound recordings, meaning AM/FM radio stations do not need to get a licence from or pay royalties to artists and labels. The record industry has been campaigning for years to get that changed, but so far with out success. The latest proposals for a radio royalty are in the American Music Fairness Act.

The radio industry strongly opposes the proposals, and continues to argue that artists and labels get free promo when their recordings are broadcast, and that they should be happy with that. And the US radio sector’s trade body has said that the American Music Fairness Act would introduce an “onerous performance fee that would irrevocably damage local radio”.

However, the proposals are widely support by the music community, in the US and around the world. An open letter organised by the musicFIRST Coalition last month – which is what these 40 artists have just signed – states: “The United States continues to be the only democratic nation in the world where artists like us are not compensated when our music is played on AM/FM radio”.

Specifically addressing the judiciary committee over in the US Senate, the letter continues: “Thankfully, legislation was just introduced to right this injustice that has robbed artists of their fair compensation for decades. We urge you to join us in the fight for fair compensation for music creators by supporting the American Music Fairness Act”.

“For decades now”, it goes on, “corporate broadcasters have used an antiquated loophole to play unlimited music for free. We have watched as giant radio corporations have continued to grow, raking in billions in advertising dollars while refusing to pay a single cent to us, the artists behind the music that attracts their advertisers in the first place and makes their entire business model possible”.

The letter also notes that, because there is no radio royalty for artists and labels in the US, American artists often miss out on radio royalties in some other countries too, even when their music is played there. That’s because the music industries in those other countries have set up their radio licensing systems so that monies don’t flow out to artists and/or labels in markets where no radio royalty exists, ie countries from which no money flows back.

“This unjust status quo not only harms American artists at home, but also hurts us abroad”, the letter goes on. “The vast majority of foreign nations – those who do already pay artists for radio airplay – currently withhold royalties from American music creators when our songs get played in their countries, simply because the United States does not reciprocate by paying their artists here”.

The impact of this particular US copyright law quirk on international income is also discussed in a new op-ed piece in Billboard from Michael Huppe, the CEO of SoundExchange, the collecting society that collects royalties for American artists and labels from online and satellite radio services, which do have to pay royalties under the US system.

The missing radio royalty in the US, he writes, “is used as an excuse by many countries around the world to withhold payments to US artists when their music is played overseas”.

“European countries typically pay royalties to foreign artists, but some use US broadcasters’ refusal to pay for AM/FM radio plays as an excuse for denying those royalties to American artists. Given that American music is the most popular in the world, this amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in lost income for American creators – every year”.

“Think that’s bad?”, he continues. “It gets even worse. Some countries (such as France) do collect royalties on behalf of Americans, but that money never gets to the rightful recipients in the United States. Instead, they divert it towards their local artists or to fund local ‘cultural’ programmes”.

SoundExchange has actually been busy of late trying to fight the music industries in Europe that don’t allow radio royalties to flow to US artists and/or labels. Though some music organisations and collecting societies in Europe have been fighting back, arguing that it’s not fair to allow radio royalties to be sent over to the US record industry when nothing flows in the other direction.

Both SoundExchange and its counterparts in Europe do agree on one thing though – that the best solution would be the passing of the American Music Fairness Act, which would render any dispute over the flow of international radio royalties between Europe and the US redundant.

“This battle to protect American interests in Europe has been fought for a while”, Huppe says, “but the problem could be solved instantly if Congress passed the American Music Fairness Act, legislation to finally grant recording artists a performance right for AM/FM”.

Although the US radio lobby continues to campaign fiercely against any new royalty obligation, the music community hopes that the House Judiciary Committee considering the proposals in the American Music Fairness Act later today is a sign that their position on all this is gaining some momentum in Washington. We shall see.

The artists who have just signed the musicFIRST Coalition open letter are as follows: Harry Belafonte, Common, The Roots, Dionne Warwick, Jack White, Elvis Costello, David Byrne, Four Tops, Temptations, the estate of Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Randy Travis, Roseanne Cash, Becky G, Julia Michaels, Nile Rodgers, They Might Be Giants, OK Go, Aimee Mann, Matthew Montfort, Maggie Vail, Willie Nile, David Pack, Lizz Wright, The Stone Foxes, The RTs, Satellite Mode, Mark Charles, Blake Morgan, Aleks Syntek, Los Rabanes, El Gran Silencio, Inspector, Jenny & The Mexicats, Kemo The Blaxican, Mac McCaughan of Superchunk, Jimi Haha of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack, Samuray, Suzanne Vega, The Whites and Ricky Skaggs.