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Congressional “listening tour” on music royalties kicks off in Nashville

A so-called listening tour for House Judiciary Committee members exploring an array of music royalty issues launched Sept. 22 in Nashville with an agenda heavy on digital music services’ impact on musicians’ livelihood, copyright protection of pre-1972 sound recordings and a push engineered by the music labels for a Performance Tax on local radio stations.

One broadcaster, Bud Walters, was invited to participate in the discussion. Walters is owner and president of the Nashville-based Cromwell Group. The committee members in attendance, which included one Texan, also toured a local radio station during their visit.

While the long running Performance Tax fight took somewhat of a back seat to discussion of songwriter compensation, Walters noted that radio broadcasters pay significant royalties through entities such as BMI, ASCAP and SESAC and would support boosting transparency in deciding where those funds go.

Musicians in the crowd especially applauded one songwriter’s criticism of digital services as under-compensating songwriters under the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees.

Radio Music Licensing Committee Executive Director Bill Velez underscored the radio industry’s royalty payments and expressed the industry’s view that the consent decrees are necessary to restrain anticompetitive behavior among performing rights organizations.

Among the questions raised by lawmakers was one from Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, who questioned whether the music licensing system needs to move to a more market-based system.

The committee chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, queried whether PROs are still useful for creators and touched on the concept of establishing a centralized rights ownership database, as a step toward more market-based transactions, and whether it should be housed by a government entity such as the Copyright Office, or in the private sector.

The Nashville event is supposed to be the first of other such meetings across the country, but a list of cities or meeting schedule has not yet been announced.

Six Texas members of Congress serve on the House Judiciary Committee and, depending on whether any legislation results from the “tour”, may be called upon to weigh in on the myriad measures discussed.  The lawmakers include:

  • Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler
  • Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston
  • Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble
  • Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath
  • Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio

While Jackson Lee has previously supported a RIAA-instigated measure to impose a Performance Tax on local radio stations, Farenthold and Poe are on record opposing such an effort. Both are co-sponsors of HConRes 17, the Local Radio Freedom Act, an anti-Performance Tax resolution co-authored by Reps. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, and Gene Green, D-Houston.

Background information on the Performance Tax is available here.

Questions?  Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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