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Tony Bennett thinks radio should pay royalties

Singer is pushing for legislation that would require radio stations to pay musicians royalties similar to those paid to songwriters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Singer Tony Bennett says it’s a crime that performers don’t get paid by radio stations when their music is broadcast.

“The radios don’t want to give up one penny,” Bennett said Tuesday after he performed the song “The Good Life” at a private gathering of guests and lawmakers, which included Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The event at the Capitol Visitor Center was put on by the musicFIRST Coalition, which, along with Bennett, is pushing for legislation that would require radio stations to pay musicians royalties similar to those paid to songwriters.

Satellite radio, Internet radio and cable TV music channels already pay fees to performers and musicians, along with songwriter royalties. AM and FM radio stations do not pay performers’ royalties, just songwriters.

Bennett, 82, said he’s been recording music for 50 years and hopes Congress can pass a bill requiring that the performers who back him up in symphonies and big bands get paid when their music goes out over the airwaves.

“There’s an army, a huge army, of great artists that just get paid for the date,” Bennett said.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which opposes the measure, says a fee would put thousands of radio jobs at risk. The association also argues that stations drive listeners to buy music and concert tickets.

“If this is passed, there would be a lot of radio stations that would actually stop playing music and switch to all-talk formats to avoid paying these onerous fees,” Dennis Wharton, the organization’s executive vice president, said in a telephone interview.

Bennett posed for pictures with guests and spoke briefly with Leahy and Feinstein at the reception.

“She knows San Francisco,” Leahy told Bennett of Feinstein — a nod to the Grammy winner’s signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” and to the city where his Senate colleague served as mayor.

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Leahy and Feinstein have co-sponsored legislation to require broadcast radio to compensate artists for the use of their sound recordings.

Advocates say the bill accommodates smaller commercial stations, which could pay $5,000 per year. Public radio, college stations and other noncommercial stations could pay $1,000. Larger stations’ rates would be set through a government regulatory board, which would determine the fair market price for the use of the songs. The smaller stations could also choose to have their rates set by the board.

With fees like those, Wharton said, stations would have to cut back on public service announcements and reduce their charitable activities to make more money.