Senators Introduce American Music Fairness Act, Which Would Require Radio to Pay Royalties to Musicians

Read Time:3 Minute

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 — a situation that is largely due to the powerful radio lobby’s influence in Congress. 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.

On Thursday morning, Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced the bipartisan American Music Fairness Act, which aims to rectify that situation by “ensur[ing] artists and music creators receive fair compensation for the use of their songs on AM/FM radio. This legislation will bring corporate radio broadcasters up-to-speed with all other music streaming platforms, which already pay artists for their music.”

The bill was introduced into the House of Representatives last year and continues to work its way through committees.

The announcement continues: “This legislation will positively impact artists and the music industry at large by:

  • Requiring terrestrial radio broadcasters to pay royalties to American music creators when they play their songs.
  • Protecting small and local stations who qualify for exemptions — specifically those that fall under $1.5 million in annual revenue and whose parent companies fall under less than $10 million in annual revenue overall — by allowing them to play unlimited music for less than $500 annually. 
  • Creating a fair global market that ensures foreign countries pay U.S. artists for the use of their songs overseas.”

The American Music Fairness Act is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), the American Federation of Musicians, the Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), SAG-AFTRA and SoundExchange.

Senator Padilla said, “For too long, our laws have unfairly denied artists the right to receive fair compensation for their hard work and talent on AM/FM broadcasts. California’s artists have played a pivotal role in enriching and diversifying our country’s music scene. That is why passing the American Music Fairness Act is so important. It’s time we treat our musical artists with the dignity and respect they deserve for the music they produce and we enjoy every day.”

Senator Blackburn added, “From Beale Street to Music Row to the hills of East Tennessee, the Volunteer State’s songwriters have undeniably made their mark. However, while broadcasters demand compensation for the content they create and distribute, they don’t apply this view to the songwriters, artists, and musicians whose music they play on the radio without paying royalties. Tennessee’s creators deserve to be compensated for their work This legislation will ensure that they receive fair payment and can keep the great hits coming.”

The bill is at least partially in response to the Local Radio Freedom Act that Steve Womack (R-AR) and Kathy Castor (D-FL) introduced last year, which is championed by the National Association of Broadcasters. That act aims to continue terrestrial radio’s royalty-free status, stating that Congress should not impose any new performance royalty or other charges that might create economic hardship for locally owned radio stations.

While still a powerful force, it is no secret that terrestrial radio is rapidly losing audience to streaming services, satellite radio, podcasts and other broadcasters, and once streaming services become widely available in cars, that decline is likely to accelerate dramatically. Champions of the Radio Freedom Act are using that threat as an argument for radio to continue to pay no royalties to performers and copyright holders.