Musicians make the soundtrack to our lives. They should be paid for it

New legislation would ensure artists are fairly compensated for use of their music on FM/AM radio stations

Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys, flanked by Reps. Darrell Issa, left, and Ted Deutch, speaks at a press event outside the Capitol in June to introduce the American Music Fairness Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys, flanked by Reps. Darrell Issa, left, and Ted Deutch, speaks at a press event outside the Capitol in June to introduce the American Music Fairness Act. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 2, 2021 at 6:00am

Virtually every other country in the world ensures that performers are paid when their music is used by radio stations to generate profit — but somehow the United States finds itself stuck in the dark ages when it comes to compensating musicians for their hard work.

We’re working to change that. Standing alongside more than a dozen artists, musicians and advocates, we introduced the bipartisan American Music Fairness Act to ensure that singers, songwriters, performers and music creators are fairly compensated for the use of their music on terrestrial radio stations. 

For almost a century, American broadcasters have collected billions of dollars in advertising by using the music of these artists to attract their audiences. It is long overdue for FM/AM radio stations to compensate these artists, just as is done with streaming services, satellite radio and other platforms that profit off copyrighted content. 

The American Music Fairness Actwould correct this inequity by creating a fair market value standard for music performance royalties. In addition to ensuring that terrestrial broadcasts are treated equitably under the law, the legislation would safeguard royalty payments that songwriters already receive. Consistent with streaming and satellite rate setting, the bill would allow the promotional value provided by radio broadcasting to be taken into consideration when determining rates and terms for terrestrial broadcast stations. 

The bill would also protect small and local radio stations by treating them differently from large corporate broadcasters. Our legislation specifies that local terrestrial stations with annual revenue below $1.5 million and whose parent companies’ annual revenue falls below $10 million would only pay $500 a year, covering all the music they play for a little more than a dollar a day. Public, college and other noncommercial stations would only pay $100 a year. And the smallest stations — those most in need of protection with revenue under $100,000 annually — would pay just $10 a year. These small payments acknowledge there is value to every song on the radio, without creating burdens on small and local stations. 

We’re not alone in calling for these changes to update our laws and level the playing field. The need for an FM/AM performance right is also supported by the U.S. Copyright Office, which stated in a 2015 report that this lack of protection meant American performers also don’t get paid whenever their songs are played on the radio anywhere else in the world. In May, Shira Perlmutter, the register of copyrights and director of the Copyright Office, confirmed that her office supports the payment of performers. In addition, every administration for the past 25 years has held this same position. Almost every foreign nation collects performance royalties, and $200 million dollars is being held abroad for American artists who will never get paid unless the United States begins enforcing the performance right domestically.

This is not a partisan issue, which is why you have leaders from both political parties coming together. This is common sense. Talk to anyone from across this country, from Florida to California, and they’ll tell you that people should be paid for their hard work. We wouldn’t stand for workers in any other industry being forced to give their product away for free. Why should it be any different for artists and music creators? It strains credulity that everyone who works at radio stations gets paid except for the artists who supply their content.

With live venues and recording studios shuttered by the pandemic for the better part of the last two years, working artists and musicians have faced incredible adversity — and those hardships were only made worse by the fact that they are not compensated when their work is played on the radio. It is more vital than ever that we protect the livelihoods of those who create the music we know and love.

These brilliant artists make the soundtrack to our lives. Let’s make sure they’re paid for it.

Rep. Ted Deutch is a Democrat representing Florida’s 22nd District. He chairs the House Ethics Committee and is a senior member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees. 

Rep. Darrell Issa is a Republican representing California’s 50th District. He’s a senior member of the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees. 

Deutch and Issa are the lead sponsors of the American Music Fairness Act.