Senators Say Royalty Reform Tougher Sell ‘Where Nobody Even Plays A Guitar’

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) joined Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee at the Bluebird Cafe Monday to announce support for royalty reform. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) joined Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee at the Bluebird Cafe Monday to announce support for royalty reform. Credit: Blake Farmer / WPLN

Three Republican senators sat on the small stage of Nashville’s Bluebird Café Monday morning flanked by some of the biggest songwriters in town. The lawmakers flew in to show support for legislation that might help hit-makers get paid more.

“Italy has its art, Egypt has its Pyramids, Napa Valley has its wines and Nashville has its songwriters,” Sen. Lamar Alexander said. “Songwriters are the lifeblood of Music City, and their paychecks ought to be based on the fair market value of their songs.”

The bill would make two seemingly subtle changes to the Copyright Royalty Board, removing what supporters call “government price controls.” It would set the rate for songwriters based on “fair market value” when music is downloaded.

The proposal would also allow the panel consider more factors when setting compensation when a song is played over speakers at a restaurant or at a live concert. For instance, if a performer is making $100,000 to put on a show, maybe the songwriter should get more than the standard 9.1 cents.

Payment for songwriters has become a perennial issue as the music business moves away from album sales and terrestrial radio-play.

“As technology advances, it’s important we not forget the sometimes unsung heroes of the music industry – the songwriters – and modernize the way they are compensate ford their talents,” Corker said.

In Royalty Debate, Geography Matters

A writer of spiritual and patriotic songs on the side, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) says his first royalty check totaled a whopping $57.

But what sounds like a no-brainer in the songwriting world will be a tough sell elsewhere, he says.

“You folks here in Nashville where music is king, it’s easy to be for these things,” Hatch said. “It’s very difficult for somebody in a state where nobody even plays a guitar. And there are a few. At least as far as I’m concerned there are a few.”

The House version of the bill was introduced in February. A quarter of its sponsors are from Tennessee. They include Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville).

Both bills already face stiff resistance from groups like the National Association of Broadcasters, which released a statement:

“While this legislation raises important issues about the changes confronting the songwriter community, NAB objects to changes in law that would deal with the financial imbalance between songwriters and artists by subjecting free broadcast radio stations to new fees.”

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