The Obama administration is supporting legislation to make radio stations pay royalties to performers when they play their music.
The Commerce Department's general counsel said in a letter Thursday that providing compensation to performers "is a matter of fundamental fairness."
Satellite radio, Internet radio and cable TV music channels already pay fees to performers and songwriters. However, AM and FM radio stations pay royalties only to the songwriters — not the performers.
Cameron Kerry, general counsel of the Commerce Department, said the measure would level the playing field for all broadcasters to compete. He expressed the views in a letter Thursday sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who sponsored the bill and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"If enacted, the bill would advance public welfare by compensating American performers and the record companies that produce and distribute their creative works," Kerry wrote.
The legislation has enjoyed star-studded support. Entertainers Tony Bennett, Sheryl Crow, will.i.am, Herbie Hancock and Patti LaBelle have all made visits to Capitol Hill to lobby for it. But it also has some powerful opposition, the National Broadcasters Association, which argues that performers already benefit because radio stations playing their work drive listeners to buy music and concert tickets. The broadcasters' group also says it threatens thousands of radio jobs.
"We're disappointed the Commerce Department would embrace legislation that would kill jobs in the U.S. and send hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign record labels that have exploited artists whose careers were nurtured by American radio stations," said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the broadcasters' association.
Committees in the House and Senate have approved similar measures on the issue. It's unclear whether either chamber will bring the legislation to a vote this year.
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