U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Thursday (Sept. 22) introduced a companion bill to the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA), the House legislation that would require AM/FM stations to pay performance royalties to music creators and copyright holders for radio airplay in the U.S.
“From Beale Street to Music Row to the hills of East Tennessee, the Volunteer State’s songwriters have undeniably made their mark,” said Sen. Blackburn in a statement. “However, while broadcasters demand compensation for the content they create and distribute, they don’t apply this view to the songwriters, artists, and musicians whose music they play on the radio without paying royalties. Tennessee’s creators deserve to be compensated for their work This legislation will ensure that they receive fair payment and can keep the great hits coming.”
Sen. Padilla added, “For too long, our laws have unfairly denied artists the right to receive fair compensation for their hard work and talent on AM/FM broadcasts. California’s artists have played a pivotal role in enriching and diversifying our country’s music scene. That is why passing the American Music Fairness Act is so important. It’s time we treat our musical artists with the dignity and respect they deserve for the music they produce and we enjoy every day.”
The House bill was introduced in June 2021 by Congressmen Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Darrell Isa (R-CA) and unveiled at a press conference outside Capitol Hill that featured Dionne Warwick, Sam Moore and Dropkick Murphys singer/bassist Ken Casey. It has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the American Federation of Musicians, the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), SAG-AFTRA and SoundExchange.
Unlike satellite/online radio and streaming services, AM/FM stations pay only songwriter royalties on the music they broadcast. The AMFA would establish fair market value for radio performance royalties in the same way it has been for those other platforms.
Both versions of the AMFA would also compel radio stations based in other countries to pay U.S.-based artists when their songs are played overseas. That provision accounts for the common practice among non-U.S. radio stations of avoiding paying performance royalties to American artists — even when the countries where they operate require them — by exploiting the AM/FM loophole in U.S. law.
Additionally, both the House and Senate versions of the AMFA include protections for songwriters to alleviate fears that songwriter royalties would be undermined by the legislation.
The AMFA was partially a response to the Local Radio Freedom Act, a non-binding resolution introduced in May 2021 by Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) that opposes performance royalties for radio, arguing it would be financially devastating for broadcasters. A companion resolution to the bill was introduced in the Senate by Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and John Barrasso (R-WY). Both are backed by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has long been opposed to enforcing a performance royalty payout for terrestrial radio.
Last month, the NAB announced that 222 representatives and 28 Senators had come aboard to cosponsor the Local Radio Freedom Act. In a statement at the time, NAB president and CEO Curtis LeGeyt said the imposition of a performance royalty would “greatly damage” the “decades-long relationship” between recording artists and broadcasters. Opponents of these performance royalties have long argued that AM/FM stations provide what amounts to free publicity for artists by playing their music and that they should not be compelled to pay out money on top of that.
In response to the NAB’s August announcement, Congressman Joe Crowley, who serves as chairman of the musicFIRST Coalition, called it “meaningless” and characterized the Local Radio Freedom Act as “a purely symbolic resolution that cannot become law or do anything for local radio stations.” He noted that because the resolution is non-binding, it doesn’t prevent any of its cosponsors from also supporting the AMFA, adding that four lawmakers sponsor both. Later in his statement, he nodded to an AMFA provision that would allow stations that earn less than $1.5 million in annual revenue (and whose parent companies make less than $10 million per year overall) to pay just $2 per day for the right to play unlimited music. Meanwhile, the AMFA would allow college and other small, noncommercial stations to pay as little as $10 per year.
In a statement on the Senate bill, NAB president and CEO Curtis LeGeyt said, “NAB remains steadfastly opposed to the AMFA, which disregards the value of radio and would undermine our critical public service to line the pockets of multinational billion-dollar record labels. NAB thanks the 250 bipartisan members of Congress, including 28 senators and a majority of the House, who instead support the Local Radio Freedom Act, which recognizes the unique benefits that radio provides to communities across the country and opposes inflicting a new performance fee on local broadcast radio stations. We are committed to working with lawmakers to find a mutually beneficial solution to this decades-old policy disagreement, but this one-sided AMFA proposal is not the answer. We urge the recording industry to return to the negotiating table in an effort to find common ground.”
The AMFA is only the most recent attempt by members of Congress to force radio stations to pay performance royalties, a common practice in other countries but one that has not historically been required in the U.S. In Nov. 2019, Blackburn and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduced a similar bill called the Ask Musicians for Music Act, which would have allowed artists and copyright owners to negotiate performance royalty rates with radio stations in exchange for permission to play their music. That legislation followed a previous bill, the Fair Play Fair Pay Act — also introduced by Blackburn and Nadler — that was aimed at the same goal.
The House version of the AMFA received a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee in February and is currently moving through the committee process.
You can find reactions to the Senate bill from AMFA supporters below.
Michael Huppe, president and CEO of SoundExchange: “The American Music Fairness Act is a vital step towards bringing the U.S. music industry into the 21st Century. It ends the injustice of denying music creators payment for their work, levels the playing field between traditional broadcasts and streaming platforms and caps the royalties that small and community AM/FM radio stations pay at just $500 a year. This is a common-sense – and long overdue — blueprint for a healthier and fairer music industry.”
Harvey Mason jr., CEO of the Recording Academy: “Music creators have been fighting this battle for decades, so the introduction of the American Music Fairness Act in the Senate is an important step forward in the fight to ensure artists are paid when their music is played on broadcast radio. It’s time for artists to be compensated for their creative work that keeps AM/FM radio thriving. We’re thankful to our many Academy members for their continued advocacy, and to Senators Padilla and Blackburn for hearing our collective voice and pushing this legislation forward. We’re hopeful that we’re nearing the finish line to end this inequity that has disadvantaged music people for far too long.”
Dr. Richard James Burgess, president and CEO of the American Association of Independent Music: “By introducing the American Music Fairness Act today, Senators Padilla and Blackburn are standing on the side of musicians and small independent record labels who for too long have seen enormous national radio conglomerates make billions of dollars without paying a cent for the sound recordings that draw in their listeners. That’s just not fair, and the status quo should be an insult to all content creators, including broadcasters themselves. The bill has the most generous exception ever for truly small community broadcasters, so the time is now to enact it into law.”
Ray Hair, international president of the American Federation of Musicians: “For far too long, our broken and unfair system has let AM/FM radio stations — many of which are owned by just a few massive media corporations — get away with refusing to pay artists when they play their music. While these big corporate broadcast companies gobble up billions upon billions in advertising dollars, the session and background musicians, whose work make all of it possible, receive no compensation whatsoever for their creations. It’s time to right this wrong, and the American Music Fairness Act aims to do just that. It’s vital that Congress protects the livelihoods of those who create the music we know and love. We commend Senator Blackburn, Senator Padilla and our other allies in Congress for championing this cause.”
Mitch Glazier, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America: “The American Music Fairness Act takes a smart, calibrated approach towards solving a decades old problem in the radio industry. It will finally ensure that recording artists and copyright owners are paid fairly for their work regardless of the technology used to broadcast it while carefully protecting small and noncommercial stations to preserve truly local radio our communities depend upon.”