A new bill that would require AM/FM radio stations to pay royalties to artists was publicized today. Music industry workers joined together with politicians to draft and support the bill, which aims to make up for the rapid continuing decline of revenue from record sales.
The new act, dubbed “Play Fair Pay Fair,” is sponsored by Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York. It follows similar but failed bills, such as the Free Market Royalty Act of 2013 and the Performance Rights Act in 2009.
Currently, AM/FM stations only pay royalties to songwriters and publishers, who cannot make money through other revenue streams, such as tours, publicity events and merchandising. Internet and satellite radio services, such as Pandora and Spotify, as well as cable TV music channels already pay royalties to both artists and songwriters. The bill would require Internet and satellite stations to also pay royalties on songs recorded before 1972, which are currently not covered by copyright laws.
Record sales have dropped by more than half in the last 15 years, from 14.9 billion in 1999 to less than $7 billion in 2014, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Supporters of the bill see this act as the creation of a renewed future for performers.
An article in Time Magazine contains a quote from Michael Huppe, CEO of SoundExchange. SoundExchange is a digital performance rights nonprofit dedicated to distributing digital royalties to artists.
“The bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation that attempts to address several inequities that exist in the copyright world today. The overriding theme is leveling the playing field, treating everyone equally and making sure all creators are paid fair market value for their work whenever it’s used.”
The bill is facing opposition by a number of stakeholders, including lawmakers, the National Association of Broadcasters and of course, some of the stations and services on which this would be enforced. Opponents say the bill would be too much of a financial strain on small stations and terminate a number of jobs. Additionally, some opponents say that the point of radio is to expose musicians, and with less money, stations would not be able to afford to play as many new artists.
However, according to the Time article, some major media conglomerates have already been making deals to pay royalties to artists at individual record labels. For example, Clear Channel cut a deal with Big Machine, a country label representing Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw, in which they pay the label a determined percentage of revenue each year. In turn, they do not have to pay royalties per each play, likely saving them money in the long run.
If passed, this bill would completely change music streaming and radio play as we know it. Even though giants like Pandora and Spotify already pay out artists, there is highly publicized dissatisfaction from artists who find the royalty rate insultingly low, most notably Taylor Swift who pulled her music from Spotify last year. Jay Z and Björk also pulled their music off the streaming platform within the last year, the former to begin his own music service, Tidal.
“There is no free tier and we’ll pay the highest royalty percentage,” Jay Z said. “That’s how we’ll change the industry.”
Whether Tidal will catch on with a mass audience or not is yet to be determined. But Jay Z is right about one thing–the industry will, and must for its own survival, change.