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A Hollywood strike may have been averted. But radio performers are still waiting for justice.

It’s time for radio broadcasters to face the music. When musicians' songs get played on AM/FM radio, they should be paid.
A driver displays their support for the IATSE union on Oct. 07, 2021, in Los Angeles.
A driver displays their support for the IATSE union on Oct. 07 in Los Angeles.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

The 60,000 members of Hollywood’s International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees who work in film and television were able to avert a national strikewhen their collective demands were partially met. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents major film and TV production companies, agreed to fairer wages, more time for sleep, meal breaks and weekend rest periods. The agreement is now before IATSE members.

While it’s gratifying to see Hollywood employees fighting to improve their conditions, the underlying issue of big corporations getting rich on the backs of workers is deeply embedded in the creator economy and needs broader attention. There are other groups of arts laborers who still aren’t fairly compensated, and the deal struck by the IATSE should be a catalyst for justice.

In particular, it’s time for radio broadcasters to face the music. For them, the question is whether the performers of the songs that get played on AM/FM radio should be paid when their work is sent out over the airwaves. While those who write the songs get paid each time the song is played, the artists who perform the songs — the lead singers, the backup vocalists, the bassists, guitarists, drummers, etc. — do not. For years, many major broadcasters have fought efforts to pay the artists, many of them in unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, whose music makes their businesses possible.

There is growing support to rectify this injustice. This summer, Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., introducedthe American Music Fairness Act to require the largest stations to compensate the artists whose songs they broadcast through performance royalties. Yet a chorus of lobbyists and lawyers, representing broadcasting corporations that bring in billions in revenue annually, have already started pushing back on the measure.

In the coming months, we’ll likely hear more tales of woe from broadcasters about why they can’t afford to do right by artists, while also raking in revenue showing how bright the future looks for their books. It’s fundamentally unfair and highly hypocritical — and it needs to change.

There is a clear path forward.

We need all parties to accept the basic principle of fairness: that music creators deserve respect and compensation for their work. That starts by getting the American Music Fairness Act passed by Congress and signed into law. This simple act will not just mean income for hundreds of thousands of working-class Americans who entertain us, but something more profound: respect.

The next logical question is how to decide how much these music creators should get paid. The good news is there is already an established process in place for setting royalty rates when music is played on digital platforms such as SiriusXM, Spotify and Pandora. That process is widely respected and conducted by the federal Copyright Royalty Board. Since 2005, the CRB has set performance royalty rates for any time a digital service plays a song. It sets the rates every five years after a comprehensive process where all interested parties — broadcasters, digital services, artists, labels and others — can weigh in on what they believe is fair.

The result is that sometimes the rates have gone up, and sometimes they’ve gone down. The same process can work for performance royalties when music is played on AM/FM radio. And that makes sense. There is no reason, other than the lobbying power of broadcasters, that when an artist’s music is played on SiriusXM they get paid, but not on the FM dial in your city. The legislation will correct this inequity and create a uniform standard of fairness.

At a time when economic justice is on all of our minds, it’s time for Congress to join millions of creators in demanding that the broadcasters who make billions in advertising on the backs of artists step up and do the right thing. The American Music Fairness Act provides the necessary certainty for broadcasters to finally recognize the vast contribution that music makes, not only to their core business, but to our culture. Then Congress, broadcasters and music performers can rely upon the CRB to determine what is just.

Music creators and performers are the lifeblood of this industry, and their ask is simple: Treat us with the dignity and fairness our work deserves.