Judiciary Committee holds hearings on HR 848, the “Performance Rights Act”

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The House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on H.R. 848 (this year’s version of HR 4789) tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.  Although the Committee’s website does not identify any witnesses at this time, I am informed by musicFIRST that Smashing Pumpkins’ founder Billy Corgan and Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA will be speaking on their behalf at the hearing.

Billy Corgan H.R. 848 was introduced to the 111th Congress by Rep. John Conyers on February 4, 2009 then referred to committee on the same day.  It was co-sponsored by Tennessee representative, Marsha Blackburn.  If passed, HR 848 would amend The Copyright Act (specifically Title 17) to provide “parity in radio performance rights” under the Copyright Act.  In other words, the Bill would grant a performance rights in sound recordings performed over terrestrial broadcasts (i.e., traditional radio broadcasts, not satellite).   S. 379 is the Senate’s complimentary bill, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy.

The act has certain provisions to accommodate concerns by the broadcast industry, such as the provision which establishes a flat annual fee in lieu of payment of royalties for individual terrestrial broadcast stations with gross revenues of less than $1.25 million and for non-commercial, public broadcast stations; the provision which grants an exemption from royalty payments for broadcasts of religious services and for incidental uses of musical sound recordings; and the provision which grants terrestrial broadcast stations that make limited feature uses of sound recordings the option to obtain per program licenses. 

The Act specifically states that it will not adversely affect the public performance rights or royalties payable to songwriters or copyright owners of musical works.   In particular, the Act prohibits taking into account the rates established by the Copyright Royalty Judges in any proceeding to reduce or adversely affect the license fees payable for public performances by terrestrial broadcast stations. Requires that such license fees for the public performance of musical works be independent of license fees paid for the public performance of sound recordings.

The full text of the bill can be found at govtrack.us.

One provision I found interesting was Section 6, (1)(A), regarding payment of certain royalties, that states, in full:

A featured recording artist who performs on a sound recording that has been licensed for public performance by means of a digital audio transmission shall be entitled to receive payments from the copyright owner of the sound recording in accordance with the terms of the artist’s contract.

Emphasis added.  This last clause intrigues me.  What I find interesting about it is that under the current structure, the record labels own most, if not all, of the commercial sound recording masters, i.e., they are the “copyright owner of the sound recording.”  This clause entitles the “featured recording artist,” e.g., Madonna, Michael Jackson, etc., to receive payments from the owner “in accordance with the terms of the artist’s contract.” 

In most artists’ contracts, payments are based on a percentage of the gross revenues from sales of physical units – current artist contracts do not have provision for payment of performance royalties on the sound recording.  It would seem that under the Act as written, there is silence as to what happens in this instance where these specific payments of performance royalties are not addressed in the artist’s contract.  One possible remedy would be for the legislators to draft language that would apply, such as what they have done with regard to the “non-featured artists in subsection (B) of the same Section 6.   This Section 6 is not found in the Senate’s version of the legislation.

All of this makes me curious about what will happen to performance royalties that are paid under this Act to the owners of the sound recording copyrights, i.e. the record labels if there is no language in the artists’ recording agreements to specify as to what percentage the artist is entitled?  One thing is certain:  an artist who is not recouped under his artist recording agreement will never see any of these performance royalties under such time as his balance is recouped.

One proposal you might suggest to your representatives is that they consider a payment structure similar to that of the current performance rights organizations that collect and pay performance royalties for musical compositions, wherein one half of the royalties go directly to the songwriter and the other half directly to the publisher.  If this were the case under the new Act, half of the royalty payments would filter directly to the artist and the other half would go to the record labels.  If there truly is a concern about the recording artists not getting paid for his or her performances, this is the only method that would assure this happens.

If you are a recording artist whose performances are being playing on local FM and AM radios, you should investigate the impact this legislation will have on you.  Call you Senators and Representatives and ask them to keep you updated.

By | 2009-03-09T12:54:21+00:00 March 9th, 2009|Client Activity, Entertainment Industry News, Entertainment Law, Life on the Row, Music Law, Music Row News, Nashville|Comments Off on Judiciary Committee holds hearings on HR 848, the “Performance Rights Act”

About the Author:

Barry Neil Shrum, Esq. is an entertainment lawyer in Nashville Tennessee with over 20 years experience. One of Nashville's premier entertainment, intellectual property , technology and entrepreneur attorney and lawyer.