settlement on music royalties

The debate over the proposed performance royalty (or "performance tax") on over-the-air radio is once again front page news in all of the broadcast trade press, as radio executives who make up the NAB Radio Board reportedly are making their way to Washington, DC to decide on whether to pursue a settlement with those seeking to impose the royalty.  What’s on the table?  Reportedly a very low (perhaps 1% of revenue as reported in some of the trades) royalty for terrestrial radio, a royalty set in legislation for at least a several year period.  In exchange, broadcasters would get a break on streaming royalties and a push towards getting working FM chips into cell phones – a potentially big audience boost for radio operators.  But from all we have heard, this is not, by any means, a done deal.  What will happen?

We wrote just a few weeks ago about a proposed settlement and why it might or might not be a good idea, and received many comments on our post.  As was clear from the comments, many are not sure why a settlement of any sort makes sense at this point, when the NAB has so far bottled up the royalty in Congress, and where the next Congress is, at least in the eyes of many, going to be far more Republican and, in some people’s eyes, a lot less likely to impose the royalty.  Proponents of a settlement respond that the royalty is not necessarily a partisan issue, with Republicans such as Senator Hatch of Utah, Congressman Issa of California, and many members of the Tennessee delegation taking strong positions in favor of the royalty.  So, just because there is a change in Congress (if it in fact occurs) does not necessarily mean that the current Performance Rights Act or some other version of the royalty proposal would be dead.  Moreover, as we wrote in our recent post, there still is the remainder of the current Congress to get through, including the "lame duck" session after the election, when Congressmen who may no longer have jobs will be voting on much legislation, including many big budget bills in which a performance royalty rider can get hidden. 


Continue Reading NAB Board Comes to DC to Discuss Radio Performance Royalties – Is There a Deal in the Works?

The broadcast trade press has recently been full of talk of the possibility of reaching a settlement with the recording industry on the adoption of a Performance Royalty for broadcast stations -paying performers and record companies for the use of music by radio stations (on top of the fees already paid through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC to composers).  The latest controversy was set off by comments made at the Conclave Radio Conference by Bonneville Radio’s CEO Bruce Reese, who has also been prominent in NAB activities, who suggested that broadcasters were on the defensive in Congress, and that a good settlement was better than a bad legislative outcome.  Other broadcasters have disagreed with Reese’s assessment, asking why broadcasters would be willing to settle when they have a majority of Congress on their side, having signed the NAB-supported resolution opposing the royalty.  Which side is right?

It should be emphasized that, even though broadcast groups have done an amazing job rounding up support for their opposition to the "performance tax" – signing up far more than a majority of the House of Representatives on a resolution opposing the royalty – that resolution is non-binding.  Congressmen can change their mind, and of even more concern, the proposed performance royalty can end up getting tagged on to some must-pass legislation that Congress needs to adopt before the end of the year.  Congress has many budget bills that need to pass to fund the government’s operation, and these huge bills have a way of attracting all sorts of unrelated matters being folded into their provisions.  With leaders of many important committees in the House and Senate being supporters of the royalty, its easy to imagine that one of these bills can end up with performance royalty language included.  While one broadcast trade publication suggests that NAB lobbyists are paid to stop this sort of thing from happening, it is unrealistic to believe that the NAB is invincible, as provisions on unrelated bills can pop up seemingly out of nowhere and surprise everyone, especially when pushed through by powerful congressional leaders who less committed representatives are unwilling to challenge (especially when to do so might mean voting against some important legislation to which the performance royalty is attached).  Congressman simply will not vote down the defense appropriations bill just because there is a performance tax attached.  This kind of maneuver is of particular concern given that many of these bills may well be considered after the election in November, during a "lame duck" session of Congress when, especially this year, there will be many representatives who may not be around again in January to face the wrath of voters (or of broadcasters) who may be disappointed by their final votes.


Continue Reading Talk of A Settlement on the Terrestrial Radio Performance Royalty – What Would Broadcasters Get?