Latin Music Week

Radio Royalty Bill Introduced in Congress (Again) Arguing Stations Should Not Have to Pay Artists & Labels

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It is the latest in a string of similar bills presented to lawmakers biennially.

Radio lobbyists and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in Washington D.C. are backing the latest iteration of the Local Radio Freedom Act, which would limit royalties radio stations have to pay on recordings.

With the 116th U.S. Congress now in session since early last month, this marks just the latest biennial attempt at passing this legislation after similar bills failed in 2017 and 2015.

This year, 124 congress members and five senators have signed on as initial co-sponsors. They include Reps. Kathy Castor (D-FL) and Michael Conaway (R-TX) as House principal co-sponsors of H.Con.Res.20 and Sens. John Barasso (R-WY) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introducing bill S.Con.Res.5 in the Senate. Both bills were introduced on Wednesday.

The bills argue that radio stations "provide free publicity and promotion to the recording industry and performers," so they should not be obliged to pay "any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge." If such fees were imposed, the bill's proponents argue, it would cause "severe economic hardship."

"America's hometown broadcasters are deeply grateful for this broad, bipartisan display of congressional support for the Local Radio Freedom Act," said National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) president and CEO Gordon Smith in a statement. "Decade after decade, free radio airplay has propelled the careers of countless performing artists and generated hundreds of millions in revenue for the record labels."

The opposition's response to the non-binding resolution was biting. “Here we go again," said musicFIRST Coalition spokesman Trevor Franci in a statement. "The NAB will dedicate months and spend millions accumulating names on a motion that falsely protects 'local radio' and that will never become law. Meanwhile, the radio marketplace continues to change for NAB’s members, and not for the better. The NAB may want to focus less on lobbying in D.C. and more on how radio can provide music fans the innovation they want in today’s digital world."

Record labels and artists have been working since the 1940s to get radio to pay for playing records, but those efforts have so far been fruitless. To date, the full Congress has never voted on legislation that would require radio to pay such royalties.