* Regulators look into charge that artists are threatened
* Broadcasters not airing ads backing royalties bill
* FCC says unsure if remedies necessary, available
(Adds comment from musicFIRST's Bendall, background on FCC)
WASHINGTON, Aug 10 U.S. regulators have
launched an inquiry into whether certain broadcasters are
refusing to air the music of artists who demand to be paid when
their songs are played on the radio.
The Federal Communications Commission reviewed a June
petition by a music coalition that accuses radio stations of
skipping songs of artists who support legislation aimed at
paying royalties to artists.
According to an official notice dated on Friday, the agency
is seeking public comment on the petition until Sept. 23. The
FCC customarily seeks comment on proposals for new or amended
rules, but petitions received on a wide variety of subjects are
also published for public comment.
The coalition, called musicFIRST, also said in the petition
that some broadcasters are refusing to run advertisements that
support the legislation.
Jennifer Bendall, musicFIRST executive director, said
broadcasters are using public airwaves to "stifle debate,
threaten artists and musicians and undermine the public
At a Senate hearing last week, the music coalition said
U.S. broadcasters are getting a free ride when playing music
and that the United States is one of a handful of countries
that does not pay artists when their songs are played on the
The FCC should look into whether broadcasters are "engaging
in a pattern of threats and intimidation against artists to
chill their speech and participation in the political process,"
the group said in its petition.
MusicFIRST, which includes the Recording Industry
Association of America (RIAA), said artists whose songs are
played on the Internet and satellite radios are compensated.
RIAA members include Vivendi SA's (VIV.PA) Universal Music
Group, Warner Music Group Corp WMG.N and Sony Corp's (6758.T)
Sony Music Entertainment.
The National Association of Broadcasters trade group has
said the radio is a big promotional and marketing tool for
artists. NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton called the
coalition's petition a "distortion."
"Contrary to suggestions in the petition, broadcasters are
under no obligation to carry everything that is offered or
suggested to them," Wharton said in a statement.
Wharton said that, according to a 1973 Supreme Court
ruling, broadcasters are not required to accept paid
In its notice, the FCC said it is looking into what extent
certain broadcasters are "targeting and threatening" artists
who have spoken out in favor of the legislation, which is
called the Performance Rights Act (PRA).
The bill is backed by the House Judiciary Committee. During
a Aug. 4 hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick
Leahy urged both sides to work out their differences because
"legislation will move" in the Senate.
The agency said it is also reviewing to what extent
broadcasters are engaging in a media campaign, including
whether they are disseminating "falsities" about the PRA.
"We recognize that substantial First Amendment interests
are involved in the examination of speech of any kind and it is
not clear whether remedies are necessary or available to
address the actions alleged by MusicFIRST," the FCC added.
(Reporting by John Poirier; editing Bernard Orr and Andre