America is one of very few westernized countries which does not offer public performance copyright in a sound recording by paying royalties for broadcasting it on the radio. This public performance right only exists when a sound recording is played on Internet, satellite, or cable-based radio stations, a fact that has given traditional radio a distinct economic advantage over their digital counterparts. However, this does not just affect household names like Adele. It means that every session musician, producer, engineer, and vocalist who works on a song that is played on the radio cannot be compensated for the use of their work.
A Brief History of Performance Rights
1787- The US Constitution grants congress the ability "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8, thereby establishing the precedent for copyright and patent laws.
1971- The Sound Recordings Act of 1971 amends the Copyright Act to include sound recordings in the list of works that receive protection. However, this does not include public performance rights, only reproduction, adaptation, and distribution.
1976- The Copyright Act of 1976 becomes the basis for modern copyright laws and amends the previous act of 1909. It grants five exclusive rights to copyright holders including the rights to reproduce, create derivative works, distribute, perform publicly, and display their copyrighted work.
1995- The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995 grants owners of sound recording copyrights the exclusive right "to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission." This establishes the public performance right for sound recordings but fails to include traditional, terrestrial radio. As a result, only Internet, satellite, and cable stations must pay. According to the Future of Music Coalition, "This arrangement is the result of a long-standing argument made by terrestrial broadcasters that performers and labels benefit from the free promotion received through radio play. Broadcasters contend that airplay increases album sales, which leads to compensation for performers and record labels." Foreign countries, however, do provide this right but since it is not reciprocated in America, foreign performing rights organizations (similar to ASCAP, SESAC, or BMI) cannot distribute the royalties Americans are earning abroad.
2009- The Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848 and S. 379) is introduced to Congress in an attempt to expand the public performance right for sound recordings to include terrestrial radio stations. Additionally, it would create a sliding pay-scale so lower-revenue radio stations would not pay as much. In both the House and the Senate, the bill makes it out of committee but does not come to a vote.
2012- Clear Channel Communications makes a landmark deal with Big Machine Label Group to pay its artists a percent of revenue earned from radio broadcasts, marking the first time this will happen in the United States.
2012- In a step backwards, Pandora, arguing that terrestrial radio does not pay for public performance, lobbies congress to pass the Internet Radio Fairness Act (I will address this in a separate post because understanding IRFA first requires knowledge of performance rights). This would change the way royalties are determined for Internet airplay and significantly decrease royalties earned by artists when their music is played online. As part of a Congressional Hearing on this bill, Jimmy Jam testifies on behalf of the music community and reemphasizes the need for a public performance right for sound recordings on traditional radio. The bill does not succeed, however it is likely to be reintroduced in the near future.
What You Can Do:
- Contact your representatives using this online tool. Tell them you support performance rights for sound recordings and ask that they support bills like the Performance Rights Act and oppose those like the Internet Radio Fairness Act.
- Get involved by participating in GRAMMYs on the Hill
- Learn more by visiting Future of Music Coalition Fact Sheet and musicFIRST Fact Sheet
- Keep in mind, if you intend to work in radio, this is a heated issue that those in the broadcasting side of entertainment may not support. However, in recent years, negotiations between both sides and the deal between Clear Channel and Big Machine seem to suggest a compromise is possible.
- Stay educated by keeping up with industry news and following music policy and law issues