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Commerce Department Backs Performance Right

NAB disappointed but says it has Hill support

The Obama administration is perhaps taking a cue from the previous administration in its view of the performance royalty debate.

The Commerce Department is signaling that it backs the Performance Rights Act, which would require stations to pay royalties to performers for copyrighted music aired on the radio.

The highly contentious fee proposal has generated months of angry words and marketing between broadcasters on one side and music labels and performers on the other. The royalty would be in addition to the license fees stations already pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

In a letter this week, Commerce Department General Counsel Cameron Kerry told Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that “eliminating the exemption for terrestrial broadcasters follows principles of U.S. copyright law.” Kerry also noted that the extra payment would provide “fair compensation to America’s performers and record companies.” The letter is similar to the 2008 stance taken by the Commerce Department under President George Bush.

“There is broad, bipartisan support for closing the corporate radio loophole,” according to Marty Machowsky, spokesman for the MusicFirst Coalition, made up of artists and labels. He called the Commerce Department’s action “a great momentum builder.”

NAB said it is “disappointed the Commerce Department would embrace legislation that would kill jobs in the U.S. and send hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign record labels that have historically exploited artists whose careers were nurtured by American radio stations,” according to spokesman Dennis Wharton. But, he added, 260 House members and 27 senators back a resolution opposing the performance right.