Senators introduced the American Music Act

Since radio’s inception, the United States has been and remains the only major country in the world where terrestrial radio does not pay royalties to artists or copyright holders of the music it plays. This situation is largely explained by the powerful influence of the radio lobby in Congress. While more than 8,300 AM and FM stations nationwide pay royalties to songwriters and publishers, they have never paid artists or copyright owners, although streaming services and satellite radio do.

On Thursday morning, Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Marsha Blackburn (D-Tennessee) introduced the bipartisan Music Fairness in the USA Act, which aims to remedy this situation by “ensuring[ing] artists and music creators are fairly compensated for the use of their songs on AM/FM radio. This legislation will bring corporate broadcasters up to speed with all the other music streaming platforms that already pay artists for their music.”

The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives last year and continues to work its way through committees.

The announcement continued: “This legislation will have a positive impact on artists and the music industry as a whole:

  • Requires terrestrial broadcasters to pay royalties to American music creators when they play their songs.
  • Protecting small and local stations that qualify for the exemption — specifically those with annual revenue of less than $1.5 million and parent companies’ total annual revenue of less than $10 million — by allowing them to play unlimited music for less than $500 USA per year.
  • Creating a fair global marketplace that ensures foreign countries pay American artists for the use of their songs abroad.”

The American Music Fairness Act is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the American Federation of Musicians, the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), SAG-AFTRA, and SoundExchange.

Senator Padilla said, “For too long, our laws have unfairly denied artists the right to receive fair compensation for their hard work and talent on AM/FM broadcasts. California artists have played a key role in enriching and diversifying our country’s music scene. That’s why the passage of the American Music Act is so important. It’s time to treat our musicians with the dignity and respect they deserve for the music they create and enjoy every day.”

Senator Blackburn added, “From Beale Street to Music Row to the rolling hills of East Tennessee, the songwriters of the Volunteer State have certainly left their mark. However, while broadcasters demand compensation for the content they create and distribute, they do not apply this view to the songwriters, artists and musicians whose music they play on the radio without paying royalties. Tennessee creators deserve to be rewarded for their work. This legislation will ensure that they get paid fairly and can keep the big hits coming.”

The bill is at least in part a response to the Local Radio Freedom Act that Steve Womack (R-AR) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced last year, which is supported by the National Association of Broadcasters. The act seeks to continue the free status of terrestrial radio, stating that Congress should not impose any new royalties or other fees that would create an economic hardship on local radio stations.

While terrestrial radio remains a powerful force, it’s no secret that over-the-air radio is rapidly losing audience to streaming services, satellite radio, podcasts and other broadcasters, and when streaming services become widely available in cars, that decline is likely to will accelerate sharply. Proponents of the Radio Freedom Act use this threat as an argument to keep radio from paying royalties to artists and copyright holders.

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