Last updated: February 5, 2009 - 10:15pm
The "Performance Rights Act" has been introduced in both the House and Senate with the goal of forcing US radio stations to start paying artists whose music is played on the air. Labels are pushing hard for the idea, but radio stations could hardly be more upset. When it comes to music, US "performance rights" law looks like a floodlit monument to inconsistency. Radio stations pay only songwriters for the music they play; recording artists get nothing (except publicity). When music is delivered through webcasting, cable networks, and satellite radio, however, station owners need to pay both songwriters and recording artists. If the law is internally inconsistent, it's also externally inconsistent—most developed nations require radio stations to pay artists. A2IM, which represents indie labels, makes the point by saying, "of world powers, only countries like China, Iran, and North Korea join the US in failing to compensate creators of music when their songs are played on the radio." So how to patch up the situation? One obvious way would be for Congress to force radio to pay performance royalties to recording artists—though, in reality, a good chunk of this money would go to the labels who have funded those artists. Because of the cash involved, the RIAA has been pushing hard to enact a performance rights bill for years, but it has become an even more urgent priority as record company revenues have fallen and can't get up. The reintroduction of the Performance Rights Act to Congress means that the labels are gearing up to fight the old battle once more in a new Congress, but they will face the same stout opposition they always have.
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