WASHINGTON, D.C. – NAB Chief Operating Officer Curtis LeGeyt testified today at a Senate Judiciary IP Subcommittee staff briefing on the scope of music rights within the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Below is his testimony as prepared for delivery:
Good afternoon, Chairman Tillis and staff of the IP Subcommittee. My name is Curtis LeGeyt, and I am proud to testify today on behalf of the NAB’s more than 6,000 free, local, over-the-air radio stations who serve your constituents’ communities across the country.
This year marks broadcast radio’s 100th year on the air. Our 272 million weekly listeners demonstrate that our unique appeal remains as strong as ever. The reason is simple – we are always on, we are local, and we are completely free to all listeners without expensive subscriptions or data charges. Our enduring value has never been more visible than in the current pandemic where local radio is fulfilling its mission of keeping listeners safe, connected and entertained.
Broadcast radio also remains the number one source for music listening and discovery. Artists and their labels recognize this promotional value in the real world – even if not in their testimony today – through countless award show acceptance speeches, social media posts, and direct station outreach seeking airplay. We value this partnership.
But radio’s place in the fabric of American culture is not accidental. It is the product of policy choices and a resulting legal framework that enable broadcast radio to remain completely free and dedicated to communities.
Among those is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Twenty-two years ago, the DMCA updated copyright law to allow the then-nascent internet streaming services to lawfully license sound recordings. Congress narrowly tailored the DMCA to apply to this new method of music consumption without upsetting years of successful music licensing relationships that existed between creators and incumbent licensees, including broadcasters.
While there is much in the DMCA in need of review – and the NAB applauds the broad examination being undertaken by this subcommittee - its music licensing reforms are an incredible success story. The DMCA enabled the growth of lawful music streaming to the benefit of recording artists whose revenues hit record highs in 2019, all while preserving a free and local broadcast radio model that continues to benefit those same performers and serve the public interest. Despite misleading comparisons to other countries’ legal regimes, the American music and broadcast industries incentivized by our copyright laws surpass their counterparts around the world both in terms of size and diversity of content, and are the envy of the world.
Some on this panel suggest that despite broadcast radio’s time-tested benefits both to listeners and performers, Congress ought to impose a new performance royalty on local radio. Not only is this unjustified as a matter of policy, but it is financially untenable for local radio broadcasters of all sizes. Radio invests considerable sums in producing content, employing on-air talent, and updating the equipment needed to run successful stations. Radio also pays substantial FCC license fees, and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual copyright royalties to performing rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI and streaming collectives like SoundExchange.
Without reliance on subscription fees like our streaming and satellite competitors, local radio is supported by advertising alone. With local businesses – including restaurants, retailers and car dealers – ravaged by this pandemic, that advertising revenue is currently on life support and further illustrates the policy interest in keeping broadcast radio’s costs down. For these reasons, Congress has repeatedly considered the recording industry’s arguments and chosen not to impose a performance royalty on free, local radio.
In conclusion, NAB thanks Senators Barrasso, Heinrich and their 237 combined Senate and House cosponsors for their introduction and support of the Local Radio Freedom Act, which opposes any new performance fee on broadcast radio. The recording industry is also well-aware that NAB stands ready to continue discussions around alternative music licensing frameworks that could increase total royalties to performing artists while allowing broadcasters to expand our own streaming footprint. However, any piecemeal terrestrial performance royalty unilaterally imposed on local radio stations is not justified as a matter of copyright policy and will further stress the economics of the current free and local broadcast model.
NAB also thanks the 75 Senators and 11 members of this subcommittee who have cosponsored bills or signed letters in support of local broadcast stimulus as Congress deliberates its next COVID-19 relief package. Your belief in the value of our industry in service to the American people is extremely gratifying.
Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I look forward to answering your questions.