Performance Fee not dead yet


A majority of the US House of Representatives has signed on to oppose requiring AM and FM broadcasters to pay performance fees to record companies, but that hasn’t stopped Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) from trying to move ahead with his bill to do just that. A markup is set for today by the Intellectual Property subcommittee which Berman chairs.

The subcommittee is packed with lawmakers who back the RIAA view that broadcasters should pay such a fee. Many, like Berman, are from districts with a stake in copyright royalty payments. So H.R. 4789, the “Performance Rights Act,” isn’t facing much opposition in the subcommittee. That could be quite a different story when the legislation gets to the House floor for a vote.

NAB is campaigning against the bill with a new ad appearing today in the Capitol Hill newspapers distributed to lawmakers and their staffs. It charges that most of the money from a “performance tax” will go overseas.

Berman has been pushing the performance fee idea – the NAB prefers to call it “RIAA’s Performance Tax” – for several years and has made a major push to move the legislation this year. RIAA, meanwhile, has been using well-known recording artists as front-men (and women) to push the idea that radio has been cheating them out of their due for decades. So, a hearing earlier this month featured Nancy Sinatra on the RIAA side facing off against Steve Newberry and Charles Warfield — who may be well known to our readers, but not to most of America.

Broadcasters, though, have been working to counter that star-power lobbying by taking their case directly to the local Member of Congress who likes to regularly hear his/her voice on their radio station. NAB announced just this week that 219 House members – a majority of the body – had signed on in opposition to any performance fee. That count, if unchanged, would doom the measure if it ever gets to a floor vote.

For today, though, approval by the subcommittee is virtually guaranteed. The fight then moves to the full House Judiciary Committee.

RBR/TVBR observation: Just because NAB has slightly more than half of the members of the House of Representatives signed-on to oppose performance fees, that doesn’t mean broadcasters should let up on telling their local rep how such fees would negatively impact their service to their local communities – while enriching foreign-owned record companies. RIAA is no doubt trying to cajole some of those lawmakers currently in the NAB camp to switch sides.