NAB may claim to have a majority of the US House of Representatives aligned against the RIAA-backed Performance Rights Act, but Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) believes many of those votes are soft and could switch sides. In a telephone conference call after Thursday’s subcommittee action sending the fee on radio stations on to the full Judiciary Committee, Blackburn told reporters that she’s talked to colleagues who have, in her opinion, misunderstood the issue. She said she explained to them that it is not a tax – as presented by NAB’s lobbyists and ads – but rather “compensation for a product with is produced by an individual” – that being the music artists, many of whom live in her Tennessee district.
If the legislation doesn’t get passed into law this year, she is already looking to bring it back next year, claiming there is a better understanding among House Members of what the bill is really about. And other supporters in the House insist that some backers of broadcasters are willing to compromise and allow some level of fee to be enacted.
“In this case, there’s been lots of effort to mislead people,” said Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), citing NAB’s references to it as a “Performance Tax” in an effort to block passage. “Every tax I know of is imposed on the private sector and given to the government. That has nothing to do with this,” he said. According to Shadegg, people have been changing their views after learning the equity arguments of the issue. Shadegg argued that broadcasters are taking the opposite view in the television retransmission fight, where NAB is defending the right of television stations to be paid for the use of their intellectual property by cable TV operators. “That is the intellectual mirror of this issue,” he insisted.
According to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is a member of the subcommittee that passed the bill, some members of the panel who had sided with broadcasters have begun pressing broadcasters to accept some level of performance fee payment. “As it moves through committee, and we begin educating people, there’s no question that zero is not a defensible amount for the broadcasters. And as they begin to realize that, we believe they should come back with a statement that, in a sense says, look seven and a half or eight percent may be outrageously high – and we’re willing to have that discussion with them, although the chairman would like to have an independent board do it. He’s willing to work on a compromise to get legislation that would have a long period of lock-in at a rate that broadcasters could afford. But that doesn’t happen as long as the broadcasters are stonewalling this – and we believe that’s going to stop as it moves through committee,” said Issa.