On the Performance Rights Act
As Americans, we are fortunate to have a representative government. We take pride
in the fact that we get to choose the individuals who represent us in Washington DC.
These representatives vote on issues that affect us and our country in so many ways. And
sometimes when we choose to vote some of these individuals out of office, they still have
the opportunity to pass legislation post-election before a new Congress is sworn in.
Every other year the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate are
elected. Congress is supposed to finish its business before this biennial election so that
those who have either retired or have been voted out of office aren’t making decisions
counter to the wishes of the electorate. But since Congress didn’t meet its Constitutional
responsibility of passing a budget for FY 2011 and there are numerous other issues to be
dealt with, they have to meet in a 1ame duck session.
This situation raises an important question: What legislation should be voted on by a
lame duck Congress? Funding the federal government is important and is obviously
a priority. And since we continue to experience anemic economic growth and high
unemployment numbers, it’s imperative to hold off a hike in tax rates. But other
unrelated measures that could be tacked onto these measures should be off the table,
especially when those bills are being voted on by many members who have been voted
out of office and are thus not answerable to the electorate.
There are many bills in each Congress that pass through respective House and Senate
committees but do not have the support to pass each full chamber. Yet often these bills
are attached to bigger legislation, such as omnibus bills, as a way to sneak them in the back door. In a lame duck session, this shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
For example, one such bill that doesn’t have enough support to pass on its own but could
be attached to a must-pass bill is the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848, S. 379). The
PRA would require radio stations to pay record companies a royalty for performers in
addition to the royalties stations already pay for songwriters.
First and foremost, the PRA represents an additional direct fee, or tax, imposed on radio
stations. And the financial hit would be significant. According to the legislation, radio
stations with annual revenues less than $1.25 million would be required to pay a flat
performance royalty fee to the music industry, ranging from hundreds of dollars to as
much as $5,000 per year. And stations with revenue above that threshold would pay
a royalty fee determined by the Copyright Royalty Board-thus for those stations an
indeterminate amount that makes for an uncertain future financial impact.
Beyond the financial impact is the secondary effect on communities if some of these
stations close down. This is a distinct possibility, especially among smaller broadcasters.
Radio stations are feeling the pinch as much as other businesses, so decisions about
staffing, programming and even shutting down operations would all be on the table.
Those are not rosy scenarios to ponder when national unemployment hovers around 10
For our representatives in Washington, DC, the message should be crystal clear: all
efforts should be made to right the economy and set us on a path for job growth. Please
focus only on what absolutely needs to be done and then adjourn. Any legislation that
couldn’t gain enough support to pass on its own during the regular session should expire
along with the 111th Congress.