Over 40 artists from all music genres and generations — including T Bone Burnett, Rosanne Cash and Four Tops’ Duke Fakir — took over Capitol Hill yesterday (May 11) in Washington, DC for Fair Play Fair Pay Day to gain support for a legislation that would introduce for the first time performance rights for sound recordings on terrestrial radio.
“The first amendment gives us the freedom of speech and also says that all Americans have the right to petition the government for addressing grievances,” said songwriter, performer and producer T Bone Burnett during a press conference held in one of the Congress buildings. "That's why were are here today, as creators and artists petitioning our government demanding changes in our music economy that is not working something that is not working, petitioning this Congress to step up and update these obsolete laws that have made such chaos on the business side of music.”
What is not working, according to artists present is the absence in US copyright law of a remuneration for artists, musicians and record labels when radio station play music over terrestrial networks. The artists also pressed Congress to “fix” the safe harbours provisions in the 1998 DMCA legislation.
The Fair Play Fair Pay Day was organised by musicFIRST, a coalition of organisations representing musicians, recording artists, managers, record labels and collecting rights societies, among which indie labels body A2IM, artist union SAG-AFTRA, The Recording Academy, the Society of Singers, and neighbouring rights society SoundExchange.
The press conference was attended by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who introduced last year the Fair Play Fair Pay Act, known as H.R. 1733, and the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. John Conyers, as well as Darrell Issa, a member of the House Committee on the Judiciary and Chair of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, who recently endorsed the bill. Following the press conference, artists went from meetings to meetings with members of Congress to gain additional support for the bill.
Burnett used his speech to “remind digital entrepreneurs that they are partners in this brave new world and not in charge of it.” He added, "Drain the music out of cyberspace and you've got an emotional desert. And an economic one too.”
He added, “We are not looking back but rather looking forward to a better place. We insist on being recognised and respected for what we bring to the table. This is not a one way street. Congress knows what the issues are.
The Fair Play Fair Pay must pass, safe harbors must be fixed."
For all the artists present, the issue of fairness was high on the agenda. "Percy Sledge never got paid in performance royalties for When A Man Loves A Woman, and millions were made selling advertising around his music,” said Rosanne Cash. “This dishonour to our legacy artists is unspeakable.”
Many of the artists present in Washington said that American artists and musicians were at a disadvantage because they could not collect royalties from foreign performances of their music due to the lack of reciprocal agreements. "If America would do that reciprocal agreement, if America would just do that, there were so many millions that would come that it would be life saving for some people, life extending for some people,” said Duke Fakir.
Tom Bones Malone, a musician from the Blues Brothers Band, who worked on hundreds of recordings, added: “There’s money waiting for us in Europe so let’s get this through, let’s pass this bill and do the right thing.”
American Federation of Musicians member and bass player Dave Pomeroy echoed that comment. "Musicians create intellectual property that has lasting value and when it is used to generate income it is only right that musicians share in that revenue stream,” he said. "What we are asking for is not cost prohibitive, it is affordable, and it is simply the right thing to do.”
Pomeroy said that considering the amount of American music played abroad, “this is a balance of trade issue that should be working in our favour, but instead millions of dollars of our money are being held for ransom by foreign collectives simply because we don’t have the same performance rights that 99 per cent of the rest of the world provides artists and musicians.”
Pomeroy noted that following the Beijing Treaty for AV performances of 2012, the phrase “no collection without distribution” helped “unlock a small portion of the money owed to American musicians." The passage of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act "would turn that trickle into a raging river that will benefit not only musicians but also our entire economy."
Ted Kalo, executive director of musicFIRST, praised the “unprecedented coalition” that was was now supporting the bill. He said that the Fair Play Fair Pay Act was getting momentum, with over 15,000 mails of support reaching Congress and an increasing number of artists supporting the bill. He also said that several non-commercial broadcasters were now also on board. Kalo said: "Standing on the sidelines is not an option: We stand before you more united than before.”
Congressman Nadler reminded that when he introduced the bill in April 2015, “to make sure artist will be compensated", he asked the music community to make their voices heard. “The response has been overwhelming, and resonates with members of Congress,” said Nadler, who like his colleagues is hopeful that the bill will be part of the copyright reform package that the Chair of the Committee on the Judiciary, Bob Goodlatte, is planning to introduce this year.
“It is critical that any reform must ensure that artists be compensated for their works,” said Nadler. “We are not pushing for a radical agenda but we want to bring the USA in line with the rest of the world. We will continue to work to make sure that the law finally respect the rights of music creators."
Congresswoman Blackburn said H.R. 1733 would be "bringing law in line with the Constitution.” "We are doing the right thing for the right reason and it is constitutionally grounded,” she said. Blackburn added that on a global basis there was a mouvement towards the repatriation of corporate funds from around the world, and the lack of performance right on sound recording was preventing American artists and musicians to repatriate to the US the royalties that are collected around the world for the use of their music. “We could not do it with performers until we put it in the books, so we have to make sure that we can bring that money home and that artists and their families can benefit from that money.”
Congressman Conyers, the dean of Congress, originating from Detroit, asserted that “profiting from someone else's labour and not paying is simply unfair. When we [don't fairly] pay artists, we undermine their potential to make music.” He described H.R. 1733 as an "important bill [that] combines our cultural activity and our identity with our legislative responsibilities” and that will "harmonise outdated rules that have too long dominated music licensing and broadcasting.”
The bill H.R. 1733 "must be part of anything that we pass that has copyright on its name" said Congressman Issa, adding that the reform must "tear out legacy provisions that prevent artists from getting fair compensation.” He added, "This is not anti-broadcasters, but every time they go out to advertisers and sell air time they sell it on the back of the music they play. Why cant they pay for what they play?”