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Lawmakers Try to Jump-Start Performance Rights Talks

Several ask musicFirst, NAB to come to the table on airplay fee issue

NAB has steadfastly said it won’t negotiate on the topic of performance rights. Will it hold fast to that promise?

Some members of Congress are trying to move the performance rights issue along. The leadership of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees wants NAB and the musicFirst Coalition to reach an agreement on performance rights before legislation is taken up on the floor in both houses of Congress. In a letter, lawmakers say they’re confident “an acceptable and mutually beneficial solution to this longstanding disagreement can be found.”

MusicFirst, which represents artists and record labels, wants terrestrial radio to pay a performance right for air play; NAB says radio already helps artists and their labels with promotion and the new fees would hurt stations in these challenging economic times.

Both bills on the performance rights issue, H.R. 848 and S. 379, have passed out of their respective Judiciary committees. In letters from committee members to both organizations, lawmakers ask the groups to negotiate a resolution before the measures reach the floor of the House and Senate, respectively.

The letters are signed by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, as well as Reps. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., Howard Berman, D-Calif., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and committee member Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also signed the letter.

“The negotiated resolution will be considered by Congress as it takes up passage of this Act,” they state in the letter. Committee members and the staff of both Judiciary Committees will lead the discussion, which is to begin Nov. 17, the lawmakers say in the document.

MusicFirst said it would take part in the talks. Jennifer Bendall, executive director of musicFirst, stated: “We have always said we are ready to sit down with NAB and others in the music radio business to create a performance right that is fair to artists, musicians and rights holders and fair to radio.”

NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said in a statement:

“NAB is of course willing to talk with members of Congress on this issue and any issue that could negatively impact the ability of free and local hometown radio stations to serve our listeners. We would hope that any discussions would also include the nearly 300 members of Congress who oppose the RIAA-backed bill.”

The broadcast association says congressional opposition to the performance fee is still growing. Sen. Jim Risch, R, Idaho and Rep. Glenn Nye, D-Va., became the newest co-sponsors of the Local Radio Freedom Act, a resolution that opposes “any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge” on local radio stations. Congressional opposition to a performance fee now stands at 252 House Representatives and 27 Senators, by NAB’s count.

This Is a Simple Issue of Fairness” (Sept. 2)

Performance Tax: Worth the Fight” (July 15)

Editorial: Time for a Cease-Fire?” (June 10)