REC's first statement on AM-FM Act

REC Networks has had a chance to review the language of the Ask Musicians For Music Act of 2019 or AM-FM Act as submitted by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10).  

The intention of the bill is to put into place a method where the recording industry would obtain payment in connection with music played on terrestrial radio.  Historically, radio has been on a statutory exemption as it was perceived that radio acutally promotes music.  When you look at today's post 80-90 environment with stations so heavily narrowcasted and the lack of local talent (i.e. DJs) and more of a public expectation of "more music and less talk", especially when faced with competition by "non-radio" (streaming) services, with the exception of a small number of noncommercial and commercial stations that still care about the music, radio is not promoting music. When was the last time you heard a DJ say what label a certain song is on?  For many years now, the recording industry had relegated that task to Walmart.  Therefore, the Recording Industry Association of America feels that radio needs to pay their share.  

The currently proposed bill language includes two carve-outs.  First, there is a statutory maximum yearly payment of $500 for small commercial broadcasters that have revenues of less than $1 million per year.  The second, and most important carve-out is a statutory $100 yearly payment for what the header calls "public broadcasters, college radio and other noncommercial stations".  Keep in mind, that these $500 and $100 figures are statutory and they can only be changed through an act of Congress (i.e. signed by the president) and can't be negotiated in a Copyright Royalty Board proceeding.  

REC has addressed two concerns that we have with the legislation and these are not related to the $100 annual payment.

First, we have technical concerns about some of the language that refers to "public broadcast entities" and the other sections within Title 17 of the United States Code (USC) where the copyright language is located.  It requries several cross references to determine what that really means and it can be easily misinterpreted to mean that this law only applies to stations receiving Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB) funding (although that is not the intention).  Even though a thourough read-through of the language would eventually land on language that refers to applicability to non-CPB funded stations, the roller coaster ride can be confusing.  The law should refer to "noncommercial educational broadcast stations" as defined in Section 397(6) of the Communications Act (47 USC §397(6)). That way it is more direct. 

Second, we are concerned about language in the legislation that if passed as written, would require a retransmitting station to "obtain" the transmission "by the retrainsmitter over the air".  This would mean that under the new law as written, the following broadcast services would not be covered:

  • FM translators rebroadcasting AM broadcast stations through alternate means other than over the air.
  • FM translators rebroadcasting daytime-only AM broadcast stations during hours which the AM station is off the air.
  • FM translators used by FM stations for fill-in purposes and those translators are fed through alternate means.
  • FM translators commonly owned by a noncommercial educational broadcast station and rebroadcasting that station where both stations are in the reserved band.
  • FM translators, even those that are fed over the air that have equipment that interrupts the programming messages to acknowledge support of the translator as well as messages of an emergency nature.
  • All FM booster stations.
  • No specific exemption for non-commercial educational broadcast stations.  (A lack of an "OR" is the problem here)

The language in the first issue eventually does what it was intended to do, it just takes the long way to get there.  The second item definitely needs an amendment to assure that stations who depend on certain types of FM translators or boosters will be fairly treated under the law.  

It is REC's position that the $100 statutory annual maximum is fair, given the other options available in order to get the United States to comply with certain international treaties and agreements.  Until these items, especially the translator and booster language are fixed, we can't support the bill as written

Michelle Bradley
REC Networks

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Media Contact: Michelle Bradley (202) 621-2355