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iHeart and Cumulus board members urged to change position on US radio royalties

By | Published on Wednesday 2 February 2022

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Musician Blake Morgan has written a letter on behalf of the 14,000 people who signed a petition organised by his #IRespectMusic campaign calling on the boards of US radio giants iHeartMedia and Cumulus Media to change their position on radio royalties. The letter has been sent ahead of a discussion in US Congress later today on the proposed American Music Fairness Act, the latest attempt to bring US copyright law in line with most other countries on this issue.

Because of a quirk of American copyright law, AM and FM radio stations in the US do not have to pay any royalties to artists and labels for the recordings they air. The broadcasters – who have always been influential in Washington – argue that artists and labels get promotional value out of airplay, and so radio stations shouldn’t have to pay any royalties. That was never a great argument, but has become all the weaker in the streaming age.

In his letters to the iHeart and Cumulus board members, Morgan writes: “It’s unjust to not pay people for their work while arguing that so-called ‘promotional value’ is enough. By a 2-1 margin now, Americans say they’re more likely to discover music on streaming platforms than from AM/FM radio. Broadcasters’ decades-old ‘promotion’ argument doesn’t even hold up in our modern world. It’s time … broadcasters recognise they can no longer freely exploit our hard work for profit”.

Noting that another argument used by the radio giants is that any new royalty obligation for radio stations would hit small independent broadcasters hard, Morgan adds: “If you truly want to support local radio you should endorse the American Music Fairness Act, not oppose it, because the legislation specifically protects small broadcasters: stations grossing less than $1.5 million a year would have their annual royalty payment capped at $500, or $1.37 a day”.

“The grassroots #IRespectMusic campaign”, he also says, “has grown to become the largest in the history of American Music – a campaign seeking cooperation from American broadcasters to right a century-old wrong. Simply put, it is time artists were paid for radio airplay in the United States. Isn’t being paid fairly for one’s work a bedrock American value?”

“We 14,000-plus Americans (from every Congressional district in the nation) think it is. Our efforts to raise awareness about this injustice were a driving force that led to the introduction of the American Music Fairness Act – legislation that is poised to right this wrong”.

“We signatories understand the United States is the only democratic country in the world that doesn’t pay artists for radio airplay”, Morgan writes. “We signatories understand that paying artists for US radio airplay would bring hundreds of millions of dollars back into the US economy that is currently withheld by overseas broadcasters as punishment because US broadcasters refuse to pay for AM/FM radio plays”.

The letter goes on: “We’re writing to ask for your help to finally bring an end to this injustice. The times we find ourselves in are changing, rapidly, and Americans know and act on injustice when they see it. We hope [iHeart/Cumulus] can be part of the solution”.

With that in mind, the letter concludes by requesting that the iHeart and Cumulus board members meet with representatives of the #IRespectMusic campaign and talk to their companies’ management teams “to help them understand why they are out of step with the nation’s growing desire to see working Americans paid fairly”.

Finally, Morgan concludes: “Music is one of the things America still makes that the world still wants. The people who make that music should be paid fairly for their work. We hope you’ll join us”.