Community activists, artists and big business broadcasters across the nation are battling it out, divided about the controversial issue of royalties paid out to performers and recording owners. HR 848, also known as the infamous Performance Rights Act, established by Congressman John Conyers, is a bill that will require over-the-air radio broadcasters, with an exception of non-profit radio, to pay artists and record companies when their music is played on the air.
Currently, sound recordings, which include the product created by the artists and musicians, as well as recording owners, do not have full performance rights; therefore, over-the-air radio broadcasters do not pay them when their music is played. On the other hand, musical work, which includes notes and lyrics, are protected with a full performance copyright, thus the songwriters and publishers are compensated. Essentially, what this means is that when a song is played on the air, the songwriter is compensated but not the performer.
Reverend Al Sharpton, who disapproves of the bill, calls it a “tax” [click here]. Hip Hop journalist and community activist, Davey D, told HipHopDX that the Performance Rights Act is “a scam by record labels.” He continued, “artist[s] will wake up in a year wishing they paid attention to this. If this passes are they saying payola stopped? Really? No more artists doing free concerts?”
Contrastively, supporters of the bill assure that adversaries are confused about the Performance Rights Act and do not understand its importance. In a HipHopDX interview with Paul Porter, co-founder of Industry Ears, a non-profit organization that aims at promoting justice in the media, he contends that he’s “never seen such blatant lies,” and that it is a “civil rights issue.”
Radio One, the largest radio broadcasting company that targets urban listeners, has taken a solid stand in opposition to the Performance Rights Act. In an open letter to Congressman Conyers, Radio One Founder Cathy Hughes stated that it “murder[s] Black owned radio and the free music that [is heard] on all radio stations.”
Porter, former programming director of BET and veteran in the broadcasting industry, appealed Hughes’ claims, disputing that in the context of Radio One, there will be no sufferable losses. “In Cathy Hughes’ case, Radio One billed $137 million in 2008. If this bill passes, she will only have to pay $5 million for all 53 of her owned and operated stations, in all 16 urban markets.”
Over the years, a countless number of over-the-air radio broadcasters in an array of markets have made arguments justifying reasons for not compensating performers and record labels. Claims have been made that the promotional value of exposure via over-the-air radio exempts broadcasters from having to pay royalties and that because over-the-air radio is free, broadcasters should not have to pay the performers and record labels, only the writers and publishers.
One technicality that Porter assessed is that the performers and record labels are compensated when their songs are played on satellite radio and cable stations, as well as internet radio, which in most cases, is a free service, for instance Pandora. Be that as it may, when it comes to over-the-air radio, they are excluded. “There’s no reciprocity,” he stated.
While Grammy Award-winning artists such as Rhymefest, will.i.am, and Bono have expressed their support of the Performance Rights Act, others have remained silent. “Artists are scared that they will get taken off the radio if they come out and support it. It is big business scaring the hell out of people,” said Porter. “Every time there is a town hall meeting with both sides talking about the issue, everyone sides with the artist.”
Countering some of the claims that have been made by opponents, Porter protested that the Performance Rights Act is not a tax, “it is about paying the performers and recording owners the royalties that they deserve,” he continued, “[Conyers] wants to include things in the bill to help black radio with financing. We aren’t trying to kill black radio, we want the artists to survive and we want to keep black radio in business.”
This heated debate has sparked intense conversation across the nation, engaging music artists and politicians with big business record labels and broadcasters, each arguing what is fair and what is reasonable, versus what is profitable, and what is expendable. “I’m no friend to record companies but I tell artists the first thing you better do is get a lawyer,” said Porter.
Some of the organizations that have openly supported the Performance Rights Act include the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, The Rhythm & Blues Foundation and the Recording Artists’ Coalition. Those in opposition include Cox Radio, Free Radio Alliance and the National Association of Broadcasters. The Performance Rights Act has already been introduced, referred to by the committee and reported by the committee. The steps to follow are the House vote, Senate vote, and eventually signed by the President, if it is in fact passed.
HipHopDX will keep you updated with the latest on the Performance Rights Act.