Folk singer Judy Collins sat before a dozen members of Congress, at times breaking into song as she testified. Performers should be paid for their recordings that radio stations broadcast over the air, she said -- just as songwriters and publishers are paid for their songs.

A few seats away, African-American radio executive Charles Warfield Jr. testified that minorities would be among the small, local broadcasters that would be forced out of business if they had to pay a new performance "tax" to artists and record companies.

What's at stake is a fraction of the estimated $20 billion radio earned in ad revenue last year. And the selection of these particular witnesses, along with R&B septuagenarian Sam Moore, illustrates how artist, label and broadcaster groups will be tugging on the heart strings of legislators and the public in a copyright fight expected to reach every corner of the country during the next couple of years.

The move to change U.S. copyright law had its official kickoff July 31, when the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property held the first hearing on Capitol Hill to explore whether terrestrial radio should remain exempt from paying royalties to broadcast sound recordings.

In every other developed country worldwide, copyright laws grant performers (artists, musicians and vocalists) and producers (copyright owners such as record companies) as well as songwriters and publishers the right to receive royalties for the public performance of their recordings and compositions. And in most countries, those that broadcast sound recordings via digital and analog transmissions are required to license and pay to play that music. But in the United States, only digital broadcasters have that requirement.

Click here to read more on the MusicFIRST coalition, the National Assn. of Broadcasters, comments offered during the hearing and a breakdown of primary issues in the performance-right debate.