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Bill backs payment to musicians for radio play

Songwriters get paid every time one of their songs gets played on the radio. The Performance Rights Act would do the same for the musicians who played on the recording.

The Performance Rights Act seeks compensation for working musicians. Steve Guttenberg

Songwriters get paid every time one of their songs is played on the radio; the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 4789) would do the same for the musicians who played on the recording. With income from CDs and download sales on the wane, they could use the money.

Under current law, musicians get a big fat zero when their music is played on AM and FM radio (they do get royalties from satellite radio, cable radio services, and other nonterrestrial broadcasters).

According to Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), the United States is one of the few industrialized countries (with the exception of Iran, China, and North Korea) that does not compensate artists and performers for airplay. I heard her yesterday on Air America radio talking about the bill.

She reminded listeners that radio stations already compensate songwriters when their works are broadcast. And get this: since U.S. terrestrial stations don't compensate U.S. or foreign performers, foreign radio stations don't pay U.S. performers when their songs are played abroad. Ouch!

Remember, commercial stations don't pay for the airwaves and they get the music for free. The vast majority of working musicians aren't rich. A royalty payment of just a fraction of a cent per song would help support these musicians.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Performance Right Act.

The bill was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Representatives Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jane Harman (D-Calif.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), and Paul Hodes (D-N.H.). It's still a long shot. Performance rights compensation bills have been proposed since the 1920s.

The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, or AFM, is urging Congress to pass the Performance Rights Act.