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Bill to give artists fair pay for play on radio

ACT Independent Senator David Pocock’s second Private Senator’s Bill being debated in the Senate today seeks to overturn a decades long legislative anomaly that unfairly limits artists’ income when their songs are played on broadcast radio.

Following debate in the chamber, Senator Pocock will be joined by Australian artists Josh Pyke and Jack River on Wednesday 9 August at 11am in Mural Hall to discuss why the bill is so important for the ongoing health of Australia’s vibrant music industry.

Under laws established 55 years ago, artists through agents are not able to negotiate a true market rate for their music because of legislative caps.

In the case of commercial radio, the cap is set at 1% of the gross earnings. In the case of the ABC, the cap is 0.5 cents per head of population.

In the last financial year, commercial radio comprising 260 stations paid only around $4.4 million in royalties to artists and rights holders, some 0.4% of their gross earnings and less than some individual radio hosts are reportedly paid. While the ABC paid some $125,000 - less than their total travel budget for the year - for all music played on all ABC radio stations.

Such caps do not exist for any other type of copyright in Australia. As a result, composers and songwriters are paid more than an artist each time a song is played on broadcast radio.

There have been at least five reviews and inquiries over the past 30 years that have touched on the cap and its impact on the music industry, most recently in 2019. That review, conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts, found in its final report that:

“The Committee sees no public policy which is served by the cap and is concerned that it distorts the market in a way that disadvantages Australian artists.”

Senator Pocock’s Copyright Legislation Amendment (Fair Pay for Radio Play) Bill 2023 seeks to remove the caps from legislation, enabling artists and their agents to negotiate fair remuneration for the use of their works on broadcast radio.

The Bill is being supported by the Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA), the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA), the Association of Artist Managers (AAM) and the Australian Independent Record Labels.

Senator Pocock said the Bill makes a small change that over time will benefit Australian artists, walking in tandem with the National Cultural Policy.

“The mere presence of the cap is distorting the market to the disadvantage of artists, who we must remember are small businesses, often operating on a shoestring to brand, and market and distribute their product,” Senator Pocock said.

“Because a similar cap does not exist anywhere else in copyright laws, songwriters are often paid bigger royalties each time their song is played than the artists.

“At the moment, we have odd examples where if a station plays Khe Sanh, songwriter Don Walker will be paid a greater royalty than Jimmy Barnes.

“Removing these caps also won’t automatically change any royalties. But passing this Bill will allow the market to decide a fair rate and always with the safeguard of the Copyright Tribunal.

“I urge the major parties to consider supporting this small, sensible, practical change that will make a difference to artists and ensure we continue to have a strong and vibrant Australian music industry in the future.”

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