WASHINGTON – Sisqó,Nancy Sinatra and other artists came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to support a House bill that would require radio stations to pay royalties to performers.
Sinatra,famous for her No. 1 hit,”These Boots are Made for Walking,” testified at the hearing for H.R. 4789,the “Performance Rights Act,” saying it is the performers who attract listeners and advertisers to radio stations,and they should receive some of the profits.
The heads of two relatively small radio station chains,Steven W. Newberry,of Commonwealth Broadcasting Corp.,and Charles Warfield,of ICBC Broadcast Holdings, said performers receive a promotional benefit from having their songs broadcast and requiring royalties would be detrimental to the state of local radio.
Sinatra is following in the footsteps of her father,Frank Sinatra,who unsuccessfully pushed for similar legislation in the 1980s. Sinatra testified on behalf of the organization SoundExchange,which now spearheads the movement for performers' royalties.
She said the movement is not about musicians who reach superstar status,like herself or her father. Rather,it's meant to benefit what she says is the majority – “middle class” performers.
“It's been a long time,but it's all about people trying to survive,put food on their tables,” she said in an interview. “It's not about people like me.”
When committee members were more than an hour late arriving at the hearing because they were on the House floor voting,Sisqó and another member of his band,Dru Hill,broke into song,and Crystal Waters followed with another short performance. The hearing drew so many spectators that some were sent to another room to watch a video feed.
Under current law,satellite radio stations,cable music channels and Internet music services – which are largely subscriber-based – are required to pay royalties,but traditional broadcast stations are exempt. They are,however,required to pay royalties to composers and songwriters.
The bill calls for “parity,” referring to equality between the different music providers,but Warfield said that because traditional broadcast stations do not charge subscription fees,the competition is uneven.
“We are local,we are free,we are purely promotional,and true parity cannot exist,” he testified.
A clause of the bill makes an exception for small,religious,educational and noncommercial stations. Those stations would pay a flat fee of $5,000,or $1,000 in the case of public broadcasting stations.
Newberry said the amount is still an economic burden to small stations. He added that the unintended consequence of the bill will be that fewer lesser known artists will receive airplay because radio stations will begin to play only artists who bring back the most immediate profit.
Most members of the 24-person subcommittee spoke in favor of the legislation,though many said they wanted to make sure it did not mean the end of over-the-air radio.
“Many of our colleagues regard this bill as black and white,” said Rep. Howard Coble,R-N.C. “If you support the performers,you are adamantly opposed to broadcasters. If you support the broadcasters,you are adamantly opposed to performers. I don't see it as black and white – I see it as many shades of gray.”