Performers don’t get paid for radio play, even if writers do. Billy Corgan – yes, the Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan – is getting in on the issue, testifying to Congress. So should you be on Billy’s side, or the broadcasters? That’s a trickier question. Photo (CC) Andra Veraart.

Policy, intellectual property, and changing business models remain hot threads to follow on this site as we watch the transformation of music distribution in the electronic age. This time, we welcome a new contributor to look inside the issues. Surprise: one radio host sides with the record industry, and the issues may not be as clear as you think. Jo explains. –Ed.

Imagine this:  A track from your new record is being played out on the radio — nonstop. All the major indie stations in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami and Atlanta have picked it up. At this point, I’m sure you’ve already ordered a fancy synth that you plan to pay for with your big check. But there is a problem: You did an acoustic version of Jimmy Edgar’s “My Beats.” So who gets paid? Jimmy Edgar. Guess who does not get paid? You!

The Performance Rights Act is a bill before the US Congress that would require terrestrial radio stations to pay royalties to the performer of a track. It is being supported by artists like Billy Corgan (who recently testified on behalf of the artists’ rights group, the musicFIRST coalition) Don Henley, Jay-Z, Billy Idol, as well as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Aside from the issue of “fairness,” the United States is one of the few countries that does not require payment to the performing artist when her track is played on the radio.

Celia Hirschman, host of “On the Beat” on Los Angeles’ KCRW public radio, a broadcast on changes and trends in the music business, says she agrees with the act. (Celia notes these are her personal views, and do not necessarily reflect the position of KCRW.)

“For decades, the laws have favored a free license to play artists’ music on radio,” says Hirschman. “This was ratified by Congress and basically accepted by all concerned…This free pass no longer makes any sense, especially for commercial radio. A reasonable compulsory license fee for all radio, with lower rates to non-commercial is an equitable solution for artists and labels.  Commercial radio stations earn their income by selling advertising because of their programming content.  It’s only fair that the content providers are compensated.”

“This free pass no longer makes any sense.”

Celia Hirschman, host of “On the Beat” on KCRW

Opposing the bill is the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) who claim the legislation amounts to a “tax” and will force many radio stations to go bankrupt. Additionally, opponents of the bill point out that many artists were first discovered because of radio exposure, which translates into sales (ticket sales, album sales and merchandise) and promotion of their brand. If the station goes under, so does the performing artists’ potential income.

Dennis Wharton, EVP of NAB, claims that the RIAA “relies on cherry-picking international examples that paint a distorted picture of copyright law.” “The US protects sound recordings for 45 years longer than Canada and many countries in Europe, says Wharton. “If it’s “international parity” that RIAA is looking for, they ought to examine the entire landscape.”

In fact, the international landscape is not equal.  Many countries in Europe run stations owned or subsidized by government funding. The foundation of our copyright laws are different as well. In the United States, we use the term “copyright” whereas many European countries use a term equivalent to “author’s rights.” “Copyright” reflects an attitude that is concerned with the restriction of uses for economic reasons, whereas the term “author’s rights” reflects an attitude that is concerned with the extension of the author’s intellect and self.

“Fair” or not, the bill may not make it into law for logistic reasons. And the broadcasters are backing their own, more radio-friendly competing bill. Capitol photo (CC) Jonathon D. Colman.

I recently spoke with Brian Lee Corber, an IP attorney who has closely followed the Performance Rights Act. In his opinion the bill will not pass. “Collecting royalties for the songwriter is already inaccurate; it’s based off of surveys. Logistically, collecting royalties for the performer is even more complicated…what happens when the performer is an orchestra?” Corber feels this logistical nightmare may make it difficult for the legislature to justify passing this bill.

As a reaction to the Performance Rights Act, NAB is backing the Local Radio Freedom Act which calls for no tax or fee for the performance of a sound recording on the radio. As of March 24th, 9 more lawmakers signed onto the Local Radio Freedom Act, making the total number of co-sponsors 158.

For More Information:

Music First Coalition:

National Association of Broadcasters:



Dougherty, F. Jay. Copyright Law Class at Loyola Law School, March 24, 2009.

“Mr. Corgan goes to Washington for a Bigger Piece of the Radio Pie”

“NAB disputes RIAA Claim Ahead of Performance Rights Hearing”

“NAB, musicFIRST go Head-to-Head on Royalties”

“Smashing Pumpkins Singer, Billy Corgan Testifies Before Congress”

Los Angeles-based CDM contributor Jo Ardalan is the Managing Director and Founder of Fixed Noise, a community-based company specializing in audio software development, artist management and business development in tech and entertainment.

She’s a veteran of Waxploitation and Native Instruments, an experienced sound designer and engineer, and co

And she has a Reaktor tattoo.