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The Next Copyright Fight: The Recording Academy Turns Its Focus to Radio Royalties

After the passage of the Music Modernization Act, the Recording Academy turns to new problems.

Jason Mraz was overseas crafting his 2005 album, Mr. A-Z, when he saw the performance rights royalty statement for his songs played on terrestrial radio. “I noticed I was receiving a different royalty that I didn’t receive back in the United States,” he says. “In Europe, even the drummer on a song is going to receive it because there’s a consideration and care for the artists who make music great. Other countries seem to acknowledge this, and the U.S. does not.”

The United States is one of just a few countries, including Sudan, North Korea and Rwanda, where songs can be played on the radio without compensation. It’s one of the main issues for The Recording Academy’s sixth annual District Advocacy Day on Oct. 2; Mraz is the event’s first-ever ambassador. The day brings together some 2,000 members of the music community with congressional leaders to discuss a range of topics important to the music business.


“Ideally, this year we’d have Congress realize that everyone should be paid fair market value, whether they are a performer, songwriter, producer or engineer, on any platform,” says Daryl Friedman, The Recording Academy’s chief government, industry and member relations officer. “We’d love to see the radio industry and Congress agree that it’s an injustice that doesn’t take place in any other developed country in the world.”

This year, the music industry is returning to Capitol Hill with a major accomplishment under its belt thanks to the passage of the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into law in October 2018. The first major reform of copyright law in a generation, it showed how the various sectors of the music business could unite to push legislation. “The message we’re sending is, ‘Advocacy works,’” says Friedman, who notes that the event has grown from just 200 participants in its first year. “Your voice is amplified when you’re with 2,000 other academy members.”


Now, attention is shifting to not only fighting for a performance rights royalty, which has been a battle since the era of Frank Sinatra, but the passage of the CASE Act, which would create a sort of small-claims court system for copyright infringement. Friedman says it’s designed to help “some of the smaller players or songwriters or independent artists who don’t have the means to sue every infringer. They can use it as a vehicle to control their copyright if it’s being abused.” Also on the table this year are the ASCAP and BMI antitrust consent decrees that constrain the way the collecting societies can negotiate with businesses that use music, which is currently being reviewed by the Department of Justice. “We want Congress to understand the importance of what’s going on at the Department of Justice,” says Friedman. “Hopefully we’ll come up with a solution that helps songwriters get their fair market value, as well.”

For artists like Mraz, the goal is to fight for what’s fair. “It’s up to us to voice our concerns,” he says. “Copyright is a right, and that’s what we’re showing up to make improvements on.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of Billboard.