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Should artists be paid when their song plays on the radio?

Musicians push Congress to change copyright laws
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Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-24 14:34:00-05

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Artists aren't always compensated when songs they perform are played on the radio.

The songwriter often gets paid, but the actual performer often does not. That's because of current copyright laws, but Congress has joined the debate — with hearings on a proposal to give artists some compensation.

STRUGGLING ARTISTS

There is no doubt that the best performers love being on stage.

Earl "The Pearl" Banks is a perfect example of that.

On many weeknights, the 85-year-old performs on Memphis' famed Beale Street.

Banks and his guitarist, Eric Lewis, say being an artist can be a tough way to make a living. Decades ago, it was easier, according to Banks.

"Music is a lot different now. It's hard now," he said.

Banks' music has played on the radio over the years, but 85 years old, he's still performing.

"Record companies aren't what they used to be," Lewis said.

PUSH TO CHANGE LAWS

It appears Congress wants to help struggling artists.

The American Music Fairness Act would compensate artists and performers when their songs play on the radio.

"This is really about fair wages and fair earnings," said Bruce Newman, a host on WEVL 89.9 in Memphis.

Newman says current copyright law allows the writers of songs, who are owners of the copyright, to be paid. But the actual performers get nothing. That's because writers often own the copyright.

Musicians from Gloria Estefan to Dionne Warwick have testified in front of Congress in the hopes of changing that.

Supporters of the bill have focused on how the current laws impact older musicians. Checks often dry up for older musicians because they often don't perform or record new songs anymore.

Most countries, Newman says, are compensating artists.

"We are the only ones who don't pay performers," he said.

PUSH BACK FROM STATIONS

Radio stations are pushing back.

The National Association of Broadcasters "strongly opposes" the bill over concerns it would force many AM/FM stations to close. The lobbying group stresses that performers benefit from the free promotion a song plays on the radio.

The group, instead, is pushing for the Local Radio Freedom Act, which would restrict payments from taking place.

Newman admits it's a complicated issue, and smaller stations would need to be exempt for the plan to work.

"We (the radio station) couldn't survive if we had to make payments," Newman said.

Back on Beale Street, Banks said he would love to see change.

"You should get paid for it," he said.

However, until that happens, he'll keep performing.