Obama Supports AM-FM Radio Royalties For Musicians : The Two-Way Musical artists get royalties when their songs are played on satellite and Internet radio and cable TV music channels. But when their recordings are played on AM and FM radio, if they didn't write the song as well as perform it, the artists receiv...

Obama Supports AM-FM Radio Royalties For Musicians

Recording artist will.i.am shakes hands with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, looks on, before a Feb. 2009 Capitol Hill news conference by recording artists about performance rights on radio. Evan Vucci/AP Photo hide caption

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Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Recording artist will.i.am shakes hands with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, looks on, before a Feb. 2009 Capitol Hill news conference by recording artists about performance rights on radio.

Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Musical artists get royalties when their songs are played on satellite and Internet radio and cable TV music channels.

But when their recordings are played on AM and FM radio, if they didn't write the song as well as perform it, the artists receive only the satisfaction knowing their music is getting airplay.

Not surprisingly, the artists have long hated this state of affairs. They want to get paid. And the Obama Administration wants them to get paid, too.

The Associated Press reports that Commerce Department general counsel Cameron Kerry sent a letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressing the administration's support for legislation the senator introduced to require radio stations to pay royalties.

An excerpt:

"If enacted, the bill would advance public welfare by compensating American performers and the record companies that produce and distribute their creative works," Kerry wrote.

The legislation has enjoyed star-studded support. Entertainers Tony Bennett, Sheryl Crow, will.i.am, Herbie Hancock and Patti LaBelle have all made visits to Capitol Hill to lobby for it.

But it also has some powerful opposition, the National Broadcasters Association, which argues that performers already benefit because radio stations playing their work drive listeners to buy music and concert tickets. The broadcasters' group also says it threatens thousands of radio jobs.

"We're disappointed the Commerce Department would embrace legislation that would kill jobs in the U.S. and send hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign record labels that have exploited artists whose careers were nurtured by American radio stations," said Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of the broadcasters' association.

Not that it's any more than a coincidence, but I remember seeing Tony Bennett at a Santa Monica, Calif. fundraiser for Cameron Kerry's brother, Sen. John Kerry, during the 2004 presidential campaign. Crow appeared at John Kerry events too. Again, I'm not suggesting that there's any kind of payback here, only that politics and entertainment converge a lot in American life.

This issue of royalties to musicians appears to be one of the ever rarer bipartisan ones in Washington. Both Tennessee senators, Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, support the legislation, which makes sense since there are a lot of recording artists in Nashville. Senators representing other entertainment capitals, California and New York, also have signed on as sponsors. Then there's Orrin Hatch of Utah. Maybe it's because he's a musical performer in his own right.

There's heavy bipartisan support in the House, too.

The strong bipartisan support in Congress and from the White House suggests that the terrestrial broadcasting industry's long run of being able to stiff musicians whose recordings it plays could be nearing an end.