The Performance Rights Act is up for a vote this week. Speaking as a performer, the premise of this Act is long overdue, that performers deserve to be paid for their work every time their performance is played on air by terrestrial radio. But from what I’ve seen and heard, I have questions that the execution suggested in this act could be flawed.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) is the main proponent against the passage of this Act. I’ve seen articles calling this a ‘performance tax’ implying (and I think I’m being generous here by saying implying) that the money goes to the government, to the argument that it’s free advertisement for the performer. I’m just going to draw a straight comparison to broadcast television. Any performer on television, be it in a commercial, movie or television show, gets paid whenever their performance is broadcast, no matter how much they got paid for the initial performance. It’s called a residual and for that matter, voiceover artists that do commercials on radio get residuals as well. I wonder what SAG or AFTRA would have to say if broadcast TV tried to not pay residuals saying it was free advertising for the performers.
That’s just one part… the next part is the breakdown of payout. Based on the segment of episode 096 of With A Voice Like This at the 06:44 minute mark the payout would be 50% for the master owner (read record label) and 50% split between main performer and session musicians (45% for the main performer and 5% split between the session musicians was quoted in the show). Well, no wonder the RIAA backs this ACT, their cut is 1% shy of controlling interest payout. Not all Master owners are major labels, Alice Peacock is an independent artist and her own record label, so it benefits different people in different ways, but the question then becomes what’s the percentage of indie labels vs. major labels played on terrestrial radio. It does beg the question of what’s fair for the performers. Are performers a disparate group like a child first learning about money and just as likely to take four nickels instead of two quarters because four is more than two? Because afterall, something is better than nothing at all.
Come to think of it, who does handle the royalty payouts? Wouldn’t it seem a natural fit for pre-existing Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) like ASCAP and BMI to expand their current charter and duties to handle that? Maybe, but instead a new single entity, Sound Exchange was created for Digital Royalties, including all performance royalties under this Act. At the 25:59 minute mark of episode 096, Sound Exchange seems to be doing a great job of finding that information and tracking down performers, but unlike ASCAP and BMI and even SESAC, Sound Exchange collects all Digital Royalties regardless of whether or not a performer is registered with or a member of Sound Exchange. In episode 048 with Samantha Murphy at the 08:05 minute mark, Sound Exchange has some strong ties to the RIAA, but despite that, there’s the question of what happens to the collected royalties that aren’t paid out, because the performer isn’t registered or a member of Sound exchange, deceased performers where no heirs can be identified or performers from countries that don’t have reciprocal agreements with Sound Exchange? Does that money just revert back to Sound Exchange and is that the best that can be done? If it’s collected without registration or membership, why isn’t it paid out under the same conditions?
With Technology so far ahead of an dated protection mechanism like the current copyright laws that are so desparately in need of an overhaul, is saying HR 848 is not perfect, but better than it is now enough or should we expect more? I don’t know, what do you think?