- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

This debate has one side seeing green and the other singing the blues.On one side stand the Christian Music Trade Association and such superstars as Bruce Springsteen, Chaka Khan, Tony Bennett, Bono, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Miley Cyrus, Kenny Rogers and Martha Reeves. On the other side stand the National Religious Broadcasters, Christian Broadcasting System Ltd., National Public Radio, CBS Radio, College Broadcasters Inc., National Association of Broadcasters, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters and several Hispanic groups, including the Latino Coalition and the Hispanic Alliance for Progress. In the middle perches the Performance Rights Act, legislation that one side calls royalties and the other calls a tax.

Gospelmusicchannel.com said the “debate is shaping up as a battle royale.”

The Performance Rights Act is bipartisan legislation that was introduced in the House in February by Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California and in the Senate by Democratic Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Republican Orrin G. Hatch of Utah. It calls for AM and FM radio stations to pay to play, as their satellite, Internet and cable counterparts already do.

The House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman is Mr. Conyers, voted 21-9 on the measure last month.

The legislation, among other things, would amend federal copyright law to remove a compensation exemption for AM and FM stations and establish fees that would be paid by commercial stations and noncommercial outlets such as religious, college and public radio.

The purpose of the bill is to provide parity for performers whose music is and has been heard on the radio for decades without compensation, supporters say. Proponents often cite the fact that satellite, Internet and cable broadcasters already pay performance royalties. Performers as disparate as Dionne Warwick, Sheryl Crow and will.i.am back the legislation as individual performers and as members of the group musicFirst.

Some performers point out that in other nations, including England, France, Poland and America’s neighbors to the north and south, Canada and Mexico, performers are paid for airplay.

“Every time I hear one of my recordings played on the radio, it breaks my heart to know that I will not get any compensation,” Miss Reeves told The Washington Times. “The man who sweeps the floor, radio station owners and advertisers are all compensated. Our music is being used for revenue, yet I don’t get one penny. When our records were selling, we got a third of a penny. Now everybody is listening from home [and] we are still not compensated.

“It is important that some of us get paid because some of us don’t have any other income,” said Miss Reeves, who, as the headliner on Motown’s Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, recorded such hits as “Heat Wave,” Dancing in the Street” and “Jimmy Mack.”

Opponents say the Performance Rights Act would hurt religious programming, minority-owned stations and noncommercial stations.

College and high school radio stations say they, too, would be affected adversely.

The chief complaints from opponents are that the legislation would especially hurt small stations, such as the ones that broadcast religious and inspirational music, and cripple an industry that is ailing already.

Supporters want “onerous new music fees that some on Capitol Hill want to strap onto the back of the struggling radio industry,” a spokesman for the National Religious Broadcasters said Wednesday.

The Conyers bill would force the majority of Christian radio stations to pay “a brand-new royalty that has been invented supposedly for the music performers who sing the songs,” said Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for National Religious Broadcasters. “Those stations with revenue of more than $1.25 million would still face virtually unlimited music-fee rates. All these newly invented fees would be in addition to the other copyright fees stations already have to pay to composers and record labels, and are also in addition to the newly established, exorbitant rates for Web-streaming of music. Meanwhile, Mr. Conyers would limit the maximum rates of NPR-affiliated stations to a mere $1,000. This is a shell game, and if the supporters of this new ‘tax’ on music that is played on radio get their way, Christian radio stations will be the losers.”

Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the National Association of Broadcasters, said his trade organization is trying to educate members of Congress about the “severe economic” implications the legislation would have on the radio industry.

“We think it threatens a lot of music, a lot of gospel and religious music on radio stations, and we think a lot of music stations would be brought to bankruptcy,” gospelmusicchannel.com quoted Mr. Wharton as saying.

Mr. Wharton said that, according to a recent study by Wachovia Securities, radio stations could lose $2 billion to $7 billion a year of their $16 billion revenue stream.

Noncommercial stations are fighting back.

In a letter this week to members of the House and Senate, students, faculty and staff with student-operated stations around the country said new fees would further burden students, their families and their schools, “particularly in the present economic times.”

The letter was signed by people affiliated with more than 80 campuses, including Virginia Tech and Roanoke College, Duke and Harvard universities, and schools in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, California, New York, Michigan and Oregon.

“Artists clamor for airplay on educational radio stations in a very aggressive manner, suggesting that airplay alone is of great relative value for the fledgling artists that are the mainstay of educational radio,” the letter said. “Artists and record labels are already highly compensated for the use of their music through the immense promotion that student-operated radio presently collectively provides.”

On its Web site, College Broadcasters Inc. President Warren Kozireski said, “The record labels are completely out of touch as to how college radio stations operate. … As families across the country continue to struggle to find ways to pay for school and as education budgets get tighter and tighter, the concept of a performance fee is outrageous - all to benefit foreign-owned record conglomerates at the expense of our students.”

Another critic of the Performance Rights Act is Radio One founder and Chairman Cathy Hughes. Mrs. Hughes gained national attention in the 1970s working at Howard University’s WHUR-FM and at the nation’s first 24-hour gospel station, WYCB, an AM station now owned by Radio One.

Trying to pay new costs called for in the legislation could silence many black-owned stations and “force others to abandon their commitment to provide free music, entertainment, news, information and money-losing formats like gospel and black talk,” Mrs. Hughes said recently in an open letter to her “Radio Family.”

She urged supporters to call or e-mail Mr. Conyers and tell him that they oppose the legislation.

Mrs. Hughes’ son, Radio One President and Chief Executive Officer Alfred Liggins III, has said “this tax would push us over the brink.” His company’s revenue dropped 10 percent in 2008 and was down 30 percent in the first quarter of 2009.

On Tuesday at a town-hall meetingin Detroit, Mr. Conyers said he had called the meeting so the issue could be aired.

“Music and culture is the other part of what makes you a human being,” he said. “I never met anyone who didn’t believe that artists and performers shouldn’t be compensated. Have you? This is what we’re struggling with. We’re here to determine how we move past this.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, the only radio representative on the panel, said one of the problems with the legislation is that it calls for the fox to guard the henhouse.

“I don’t know anyone who is opposed to the compensation that has been due artists historically,” Mr. Sharpton said. “I’d first talk about how we repair the damage done to artists. And I would not repair the damage by giving the money that they were robbed to the thief that robbed them.”

Mr. Hatch, who writes inspirational and patriotic music, has said the intent of the legislation is simple: “This legislation would ensure that musical performers and songwriters receive fair compensation from all companies across the broadcast spectrum - not just from Web casters, satellite radio providers and cable companies. It is an attempt to strike a harmonious balance between fair compensation for artists and a vibrant radio industry in the U.S.”

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