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Performers Deserve Royalties


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Friday, May 15, 2009

Performers deserve royalties, Duke Fakir says

Susan Whitall / The Detroit News

Duke Fakir is ticked off. The suave Fakir, a founding member of Motown's legendary Four Tops, is always so cheerful that it's hard to tell, but the singer is more than a little annoyed at what he terms as "misinformation" coming from corporate radio executives on the subject of the Performance Rights Act sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit.

"There has been misinformation, particularly in Detroit, coming from (Radio One CEO) Cathy Hughes, that this is some sort of tax," Fakir says. "It's not a tax, it's something that's long overdue."

The bill would require all American AM and FM radio stations to pay recording artists. Radio One's Hughes has argued that the bill would put a financial burden on black-owned radio stations and even "kill" black radio.

Currently in the United States, only satellite radio, Internet radio and cable pay a performers' fee. On Wednesday, the bill passed the House Judiciary Committee, which Conyers chairs. The bill now moves to the full House for a vote. The Senate has a companion bill pending action.

Countries that do pay performers' fees include England, France, Canada, Japan, Mexico and Poland. Fakir complains that, along with the United States, some of the other countries that don't pay include Iran, China, North Korea and Rwanda.

"Not only that, but every other country takes the performing rights money it would be paying American artists, and holds it in a fund.," Fakir says. "After a while they put that money into their own cultural organizations. So all this money from all these countries that could be coming into the United States, taxable income for lots of people, isn't."

Fakir was in Washington on Wednesday, talking to members of Congress, urging them to support the Conyers bill. He says he'll return to do the same when the bill comes up for a vote.

"The way I presented the bill to a lot of Congress people, I turned a couple of heads on it," Fakir says. "Some of them didn't know that everything else in radio is paid. Whether you talk, you walk, whatever you do, it's paid -- except for the performers on disc."

Currently, AM and FM radio stations pay ASCAP and BMI, who then pay songwriters and song publishers for radio airplay of songs -- for example, the songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland and the publishing company Jobete get paid for every spin of "Baby I Need Your Loving" by the Four Tops.

But Levi Stubbs, Duke Fakir and the rest of the Four Tops, who sang the version played on the radio, don't get paid. That always struck Fakir as unfair, when he noticed the checks that the songwriters were getting. "We brought that song to life," he says.

How is it that U.S. law evolved this way? When music copyright law was drafted in the early 20th century, the "music business" consisted of home piano players buying sheet music of songs.

ASCAP and BMI were organizations set up to collect money and pay songwriters who at that time were the only creative participants in the business of music. During the Big Band era, musicians and performers were paid for live performance on radio, but every effort to extend that to performers on disc has been blocked by broadcast lobbyists.

"Frank Sinatra, in the '50s, tried to get a deal passed where performers would get paid, but it never got anywhere. Now there's more of a chance. All the other radio formats are paying, such as satellite radio, Internet radio and cable. To let terrestrial radio be the only one that's not paying -- they just don't want to pay," Fakir said.

On Wednesday, a protest rally attended by many Radio One staffers and air personalities was held outside Conyers' office in Detroit. Radio One stations are airing a commentary by Hughes berating the proposed bill. At least one Clear Channel employee, Spike of 95.5's Mojo in the Morning show, was at the rally. On his Facebook page, Spike says his boss asked him to attend.

Fakir is concerned that opponents of the bill, notably Radio One and Hughes, have created the impression that the bill is somehow aimed at black or minority radio. "The deal has been amended and corrected; it's more than fair," Fakir says. "It's been set up so it will not hurt small radio. Some of the smaller stations would pay $500; some wouldn't pay anything. Corporate radio would have to pay more, negotiate rates with the performers. Sure it's a bad time, with a recession, but you still have to move on with life, you have to make changes. They're going to charge advertisers anyway."

Karole White, president and CEO of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, is against the bill. "We've had this longstanding relationship with the recording companies where our promotion of the songs and of the artists and all the events the artists have is what makes them so rich and wealthy, and sells their records," White says.

Fakir disagrees that most performers are "wealthy." He also points out that many R&B and soul artists who struggle in their senior years would benefit, not because they get airplay in the U.S. -- the more obscure ones don't -- but because a deal here would free up the royalties from airplay in soul music-crazy enclaves in Britain and Europe.

swhitall@detnews.com (313) 222-2156

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