Variety: AM and FM Radio Do Not Pay Royalties to Artists — That’s Un-American

By Senators Alex Padilla and Marsha Blackburn

Since the dawn of radio, the United States has been and remains the only major country in the world where terrestrial radio pays no royalties to performers or recorded-music copyright owners of the songs it plays. While the more than 8,300 AM and FM stations across the country pay royalties to songwriters and publishers, they have never paid performers or copyright holders, although streaming services and satellite radio do.

The bipartisan American Music Fairness Act, which aims to address that situation, was introduced into the House of Representatives in 2021 and the Senate last year, by Senators Alex Padilla (D.-Calif.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Music is undeniably one of our nation’s greatest treasures, and one of our most significant exports. For a century, American musicians have created masterpieces that are enjoyed around the world, transcending language barriers, coloring key moments in history, and giving voice to cultural revolutions. Today, World Music Day, gives us an opportunity to pause and appreciate the artists who create the soundtrack to our lives.

But as we celebrate their contributions, we are also reminded that the United States continues to stand alone as the only democratic nation in the world where artists are not compensated for the use of their songs on AM/FM radio.

For nearly a century, American broadcasters have used an antiquated loophole to avoid paying performers for the songs that they choose to fill their airwaves. Although money changes hands every time a song plays on the radio (the law requires that songwriters are compensated, for example), many of the artists whose work is featured on the track receive nothing.

It’s easy to see why and how this practice is detrimental to music creators here in the U.S. Many working artists aren’t household names, but everyday musicians striving to make ends meet and take care of their families. For every Beyonce or Dolly Parton, there are countless background singers, session musicians, and engineers whose creativity goes on to shape the airwaves and produce anthems that will last for generations. These musicians deserve to be compensated for their work.

This decades-long injustice also hurts American artists abroad. The majority of foreign nations — those who already pay their own artists for radio airplay — currently withhold royalties from American music creators, simply because the United States does not reciprocate by paying their performers. As a result, hard-working American artists are missing out on approximately $200 million every year — money that could ultimately flow back into the American economy, if only we did right by our artists at home.

This unfortunate status quo is not just outdated, it’s un-American. The dignity of hard work and a fair paycheck in return – that’s a fundamentally American belief worth fighting for. That is why we have united across party lines to propose a solution: the American Music Fairness Act (AMFA). Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation, would address the issue at hand by recognizing the property rights of music creators and requiring U.S. broadcasters to finally compensate artists for the use of their songs on domestic AM/FM radio. In doing so, AMFA would bring American radio in line with its international peers, as well as digital platforms, streaming services and others who already pay artists for the use of their music.

We also recognize the vital role that broadcast radio serves in local communities. The AMFA would ensure that stations making less than $1.5 million in annual revenue or whose parent companies make less than $10 million in annual revenue will pay less than $2 per day — or no more than $500 annually for unlimited music. These protections would help provide these local broadcasters with the much-needed economic certainty they need to thrive and to serve our communities far into the future. 

Additionally, the bill calls for explicit consideration of the promotional value broadcasters offer artists. This balanced approach proves it’s possible to support both music creators and small broadcasters, and has therefore earned the support of countless artists, community broadcasters and their allies, worker advocates and labor unions alike.

This World Music Day, as support for AMFA continues to grow, it’s time we respect and honor our hard-working American artists. That means more than singing their praises. It means finally respecting the artists that have helped define our lives with the paychecks they’ve rightly earned.

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