Project 72 campaign aims for equal royalties in digital radio

A new bill hopes to force music streaming services to pay 'heritage artists' equally for use of their music

A raft of artists across the musical spectrum including the Beatles, members of the Beach Boys and the estates of Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding are rallying behind a new campaign called Project 72, which aims to require digital radio services to pay equally for all recordings they stream.

Currently, Sirius XM and Pandora do not pay royalties for recordings made before 1972 because those recordings fall outside protections of the Copyright Act of 1972, the first federal law specifically addressing sound recordings. Prior to that year, such recordings were copyrighted at the state and local level.

While that remains an issue that is being explored on various fronts, the Project 72 campaign and a companion bill in the  House of Representatives are being introduced to give the effort additional legal muscle. The two efforts constitute “a fairly simple fix,” said Michael Huppe, president and chief executive of the Washington-based SoundExchange.

That’s the nonprofit performing rights organization empowered by the Copyright Royalty Board to collect statutory royalties and distribute them to artists and record companies for recordings used on satellite and Internet radio, cable TV and streaming music services.

The bill would amend the statutory license to require those services to pay the same for pre-1972 recordings as they do for those made more recently in terms of royalty payments.

Dubbed the RESPECT Act, the proposal is co-sponsored by Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), who are spearheading the legislation produced by a bipartisan team of congressional representatives.

“It’s part of the broader debate about all these copyright issues,” Huppe said. “All those issues are urgent, but there’s a different kind of urgency to this. There are living, breathing icons of our musical heritage who are not getting paid for the use of their music.”

The issue most directly affects “heritage acts” that came up in the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s, but younger artists also have come aboard in support of many of their musical influences.

SoundExchange has assembled a list of nearly 80 names of musicians who are supporting the bill and the Project 72 campaign. Those names are attached to an advertisement appearing in Politico that reads, “It’s a matter of R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and states, “Digital radio companies like Sirius XM and Pandora offer listeners a wide array of music. That’s good for fans, and good for musicians like us. It’s worth celebrating.

“What’s not is that these successful businesses refuse to pay artists for songs recorded before 1972. That’s just not right. Pandora and Sirius XM, we urge you to do right by legacy artists. Pay for all the music you play.”

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