Lawmakers Host Radio Royalty Talks

Posted November 2, 2009 at 6:32pm

Hoping to break a deadlock over performance royalties, key lawmakers have summoned representatives from radio broadcasters and a musicians group to a negotiating session later this month at the Capitol.

The proposed talks, scheduled to begin Nov. 17, are intended to give both sides a chance to work out their differences before the full House and Senate consider the legislation.

Earlier this year, both the House and Senate Judiciary committees approved measures that would require radio stations to pay royalties to performers. The National Association of Broadcasters has opposed the legislation, saying it would bankrupt many radio stations.

Musicians, however, argue that it is unfair that radio stations pay royalties to songwriters and producers but not to them.

Six lawmakers, including the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), sent a letter on Oct. 30 to the executives of the NAB and the musicFIRST Coalition, which represents musicians and record labels, to inform them of the negotiation sessions.

“We request that your organizations as representatives of the stakeholders most affected by the provisions of this legislation, enter into negotiations before this legislation is considered on the floor of either House,— the letter stated. “The negotiated resolution will be considered by Congress as it takes up passage of this Act.—

The letter said the negotiations will be led by Members and staff of the Judiciary committees. The letter asked that the organizations select representatives with “decision-making authority— to appear at 10 a.m. Nov. 17 in Room HC-7 of the Capitol to commence talks that would continue through Dec. 1.

MusicFIRST issued a statement from its executive director, Jennifer Bendall, saying the group would be at the talks.

“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,— Bendall said.

NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton issued a statement saying his organization “was 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.—

However, in its release, Wharton said he hoped the negotiations would include the nearly 300 lawmakers his organization says are opposed to the performance royalty legislation.

The NAB also has to clarify whether its new president, Gordon Smith, a former GOP Senator from Oregon, can participate in such talks without a waiver from Congress. Former Members of Congress are barred from lobbying on Capitol Hill for two years after they leave office. Gordon was defeated for re-election in November 2008, meaning the prohibition from lobbying still applies.

Smith also has a conflicting speaking engagement on Nov. 17 that might prevent him from attending the scheduled opening session.

Lawmakers are hoping they can finally nudge the NAB into getting involved in the legislation the broadcasters have firmly rejected in the past. Earlier this year, the group declined to participate in a House hearing on the issue.

Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of the lawmakers who signed the letter requesting the sessions, said his boss believed it was important to encourage the parties to reach consensus.

But Bardella added, “Congress will address this issue one way or another.—

The other lawmakers who signed the letter were Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).