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Boucher Urges Negotiations Between Labels, Stations

Performance royalty battle escalates

Virginia Democrat Rick Boucher, chairman of the House Telecom Subcommittee, says it’s time for terrestrial radio to get to the negotiating table and talk to the record labels, artists, and other industries, like cable and satellite, about performance royalties.

If terrestrial doesn’t, Boucher said, “I think your industry is at risk of having legislation passed … if you don’t get involved.”

Speaking to about 500 representatives of state broadcast associations visiting Washington at the behest of the NAB, Boucher prefaced his comments by saying he was “going to make some news.”

He did, telling broadcasters he thinks the Performance Rights Act introduced by Michigan Democrat Rep. John Conyers and supported by the recording industry is gaining traction, more so than last year. “The votes exist today to pass a simple royalty on terrestrial radio. That bill could pass the House.”

Satellite and cable believe they pay too high a performance royalty, he said, and if terrestrial radio comes to the negotiating table, and agrees to pay, they could compromise on a lower fee for all.

MusicFirst, a lobbying group backed by the record labels and their artists, says the bill is needed to close a loophole in copyright law.

“Rep. Boucher is adding his respected voice to others on the Hill who have asked NAB to sit down, talk and work this out. NAB can’t run away from this issue any longer,” MusicFirst Spokesman Marty Machowsky told Radio World.

NAB counters that stations provide artists with plenty of exposure and free publicity by playing their music, and the trade association says it has no interest in coming to the table.

Steve Newberry, chief executive office of Commonwealth Broadcasting and chairman of NAB’s Radio Committee, told Radio World that, instead, the negotiations that need to take place are the ones between the record labels and their artists. “We’re providing millions in dollars in promotion.”

“This is like World War I,” a senior NAB official told Radio World, saying the association is telling members to prepare for a five-year battle on this issue, which actually began a year ago. It will also take millions of dollars to conduct the fight, he said.

NAB is now focused on gaining support in Congress for a resolution that counters the RIAA-backed performance royalty. Texas Reps. Gene Green, a Democrat and Mike Conaway, a Republican, recently introduced the Local Radio Freedom Act, which opposes “any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge” on local radio stations.

NAB says the resolution has the support of 158 House lawmakers. Sens. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced a companion resolution in the Senate this week.

Speaking at the luncheon, Conaway urged attendees to lobby for the measures when they visited lawmakers to press for broadcaster issues this week.