The notion that record companies "have put a ring through the nose of artists" and are leading them to fight for royalties from radio broadcasters "ain't the world today," Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) charged to broadcaster witnesses late today (June 11) on Capitol Hill.

"Artists have a sophisticated understanding of what they're facing today," Berman said as the Congressional hearing waned into the evening hours. And "they have formed an aggressive coalition" to fight for a performance right for terrestrial radio broadcasts.

The charge came after small broadcaster Charles Warfield, president/COO of ICBC Broadcast Holdings and representative of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, argued that the RIAA -- and not just artists -- should be testifying before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property.

Warfield blamed record companies' contract terms for older artists having financial difficulties today, using Prince as an example of an artist who felt enslaved by his former label.

Warfield and Steven Newberry, president/CEO of Commonwealth Broadcasting, stood their ground opposing any royalty for artists and labels. They argued that the promotional value to artists from airplay is all the money that artists or labels should receive from broadcasters, even though they pay songwriters under copyright law. Artists derive benefits from touring, merchandise and record sales, they said.

Nearly all of the Subcommittee members indicated that they're leaning toward supporting the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 4789), while they recognize that there must be a balance in the legislation to ensure that religious, educational and small broadcasters are not put out of business.

Under the bill, the Copyright Royalty Board would set rates if the parties could not reach an agreement.

"No one is denying the promotional value," said Berman, chairman of the Subcommittee. "That is what the Copyright Royalty Board would weigh in setting rates" if the bill passes.

Artists and labels scored a victory when Subcommittee Ranking Member Howard Coble (R-N.C.) said he was now supporting the bill.

Although he has always supported broadcasters in the past, he said, he decided that continuing to exempt terrestrial radio broadcasters from paying performers "just does not strike me as the right thing to do." He still has questions on the timing and implementation of the fees, he added.

Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) remained a strong proponent for broadcasters, saying that local broadcasters should not risk losing their ability to help the community in times of emergencies by having to pay royalties to artists.

Keller was unsuccessful in trying to lead Nancy Sinatra, who testified on behalf of artists, into saying that "These Boots Were Made for Walking" became a hit due to radio play. Sinatra said that the visual -- her wearing a short skirt and boots -- was a big help in breaking that song.

AFM president Thomas Lee pointed out that session musicians don't benefit from radio promotion.

The Subcommittee is expected to mark up the bill this summer. It is unlikely that Congress will pass the bill this session.