Recording group makes Capitol pitch


WASHINGTON -- In what has become the informal kickoff to the lobbying season, the Recording Academy on Wednesday conducted its annual Grammys on the Hill event, sending musicians across Capitol Hill to push its legislative agenda.

The Recording Academy uses the day to advocate for the policies it is pushing this year. While the academy has its own agenda, much of it dovetails with the policies pushed by the record labels and other copyright industries. Copyright protection is one of those issues.

This year, however, Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow, music producer/Academy chairman Jimmy Jam and much of the rest of the music industry is pushing for a change in copyright law that would pay performers and the labels when music is played on traditional, over-the-air radio. While there is a performance right in the online and satellite radio world, it doesn't exist for traditional broadcasters. Labels and performers don't receive a royalty from radio stations, but songwriters and publishers do.

At least one lawmaker, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., pledged to push hard for that change.

"We need to look out for the singers as much as the songwriters," he told members of the audience assembled in the ornate Cannon Caucus Room. "That's something we need to change, and hopefully we can do that this session."

It will be a tough sell as the broadcast lobby strongly opposes the performance royalty and is pulling out all the stops to ensure the idea never gets off the ground. The broadcast lobby might not be a strong as it once was, but it is still a formidable opponent, especially as the elections draw near.

Policy arguments aside, the academy honored Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and music producer Quincy Jones with annual achievement awards. Lawmakers and their aides also got to hear music by Keb' Mo', BeBe Winans and CeCe Winans and Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel.

As an example of the recording industry's willingness to go forward on the copyright issue, Portnow announced a set of principles that were agreed upon by the music and technology industries during a July meeting at George Lucas' SkyWalker Ranch outside San Francisco.

Most significant to the music industry, Portnow said, was an agreement by the tech side that "music creators are the foundation of the music business and must be adequately compensated regardless of the technology."

Music industry execs at the Grammys on the Hill event said that represents a significant change on the part of the tech industry.