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Congress Pushing Bipartisan Bill Protecting Music Creators from Legalized Theft

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

This Congress increasingly resembles a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) battle more than a debate society, so it is notable when Republicans and Democrats can get together and agree on an issue.  Right now, there is legislation that has the support of liberal Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and conservative stalwart Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). They have come together to protect the intellectual property rights of the creators of music from years of legalized theft from terrestrial radio stations.

There are not many areas of law where stealing is OK. One can’t just take a car for a short joy ride without the permission of the owner then toss that owner a dollar to compensate them. I can’t download a pirated copy of a Microsoft product to do some work at home without owing that company for using their creation. Furthermore, I can’t walk into a movie theater and demand to see Frozen II with my kids and then say that I will only pay $3 dollars to see the new movie, because I would be tossed out of the theater. Yet, radio stations routinely play music without the prior approval of the creator of that music, and under current law they are given pennies on the dollar for those uses. In any other area of the law, radio stations would be liable for stealing.

The law requires cable providers the consent of networks before they broadcast network broadcasts. In every other area of law dealing in the broadcast of copywritten content, the entity that rebroadcasts has to pay the creator, and the market sets the rate. Not with music on the radio, because they operate under a totally different area of law with never-ending consent decrees and arcane law that ends up shortchanging the actual writer of the music.

One of the principles of America is the idea of private property rights and the protection of intellectual property from theft by other individuals and the government. The legislation titled the “Ask Musicians for Music (AM/FM) Act,” would correct a flaw in American law that compromises the intellectual property of the creators of music. The bill would give the creators of music more control over content they created by requiring terrestrial broadcasters to obtain permission before transmitting that content. Most people are shocked when they find out that radio stations always play music without any prior consent of the person who created the music.  

The bill gives music creators control of their own content by simply requiring broadcasters to obtain permission before transmitting content owned by another person. Obtaining permission before airing content should not be a new idea to broadcasters. In fact, the legislation simply asserts the same rights for music creators that broadcasters demand for themselves. Under current law, cable operators must obtain permission from commercial broadcasters before carrying their programming.

The flaw in current law is that terrestrial AM/FM radio is operating under a system set up years ago that allowed them to effectively take music and play it without the prior consent of the creator. Just like cable operators have to get permission before carrying programming, radio stations would have to do the same under this new law.   Artists would be empowered under this new system to either negotiate rates for permission to air content or give it away for free because that might benefit the artist in the long run with live performances and online streaming sales.  The legislation has provisions to protect small stations, in addition to public and college radio, from this new law to remove the argument that this legislation will hurt the little stations.

If you locked Rep. Nadler and Sen. Blackburn in a room to discuss impeachment there would be yelling and screaming. If you set them down together to discuss the private intellectual property rights of the producers of music they would agree. Funny political world we live in these days.

Gridlock may be in vogue in Washington, DC, but there seems to be a chance of some common ground to fix current law to eliminate the legalized theft of music from the creators of music. Congress should step up and pass the bipartisan Ask Musicians for Music (AM/FM) Act before the next election to show that Congress can make common sense changes to law in an election year.

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