Radio Stations May Have to Pay to Play

Traditional AM/FM radio has long been exempt from paying royalties to artists for their songs.

That Taylor Swift song you've already heard a hundred times may soon get more expensive for radio stations to play.

A bipartisan House bill introduced today would make AM/FM and satellite-radio broadcasters pay royalties to the artists of the songs they play on the air, after years of remaining exempt from the payments. The bill would also make digital radio pay for music recorded before 1972, which some platforms have avoided paying for because of a loophole in royalty rules.

As it stands, the amount an artist gets paid for a radio play depends on the platform on which his or her song is played. Digital-radio services like Pandora pay one rate, while satellite radio pays another, lower rate. And traditional AM/FM radio is not required to pay royalties to artists at all—they only pay songwriter royalties.

Broadcasters say they shouldn't have to pay artists royalties to play their music on the air because of the benefits of the mass exposure that radio affords. A statement from the National Association of Broadcasters expressed strong opposition to the legislation introduced Monday.

"It is disappointing that this bill retreads years-old policy positions rather than advancing the copyright dialogue through policies that help grow the entire music ecosystem," the association's top spokesman, Dennis Wharton, said in the statement. "NAB stands ready to work with Congress on a balanced music-licensing proposal that promotes innovation and recognizes the benefit of our free locally focused platform to the benefit of artists and listeners."

But the newly introduced bill would hold AM/FM radio to the same rules that Internet and satellite radio must follow. It would also even the playing field by making all radio platforms pay the same amount per play.

The bill includes protections for small and local radio stations, which broadcasters have said in the past would be harmed by a royalty requirement. Radio stations that make less than $1 million in annual revenue will only have to pay $500 a year in royalties, and college and local radio stations will be on the hook for $100 a year.

"Large radio conglomerates will no longer be able to hide behind truly smaller and public stations to perpetuate this injustice," Rep. Jerrold Nadler said at an event in New York to announce the bill.

Rep. Nadler, a New York Democrat, introduced the Fair Play Fair Pay Act along with Reps. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, and Democrats John Conyers and Ted Deutch.

"It's a question of basic economic fairness, but it is also a matter of fair competition between music services. No more special privileges for old technologies. No more giveaways," said Ted Kalo, executive director of the musicFIRST Coalition in a statement. The coalition is made up of groups that represent artists, managers, and music businesses.

"Let the best services win—fair and square, on the depth of their playlists and the quality of their products," Kalo said.

This post has been updated with further details about the bill and a quote from Rep. Nadler.