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Canberra Today 16°/18° | Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Aussie musicians demand fair pay for radio plays

Jack River (centre) says overturning the royalties cap could make a great difference to artists. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

By Dominic Giannini in Canberra

DAVID Pocock says the time has come to say fair’s fair, telling commercial radio stations to pay the rent and pay their share to Australian artists for playing their songs.

The independent ACT senator is moving to overturn a cap on the royalties commercial broadcasters pay singers with his “fair pay for radio play” bill, which would enable artists to negotiate fairer remuneration.

Australian musician Josh Pyke said while being played on the radio was amazing, it felt exploitative.

“It makes us mentally feel neglected and unappreciated,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

Jack River said Australian artists like herself who supported “fires, floods… and absolutely everything that is good for this country” wanted the freedom to negotiate a fair rate which could make “a great difference to our careers and our lives”.

Senator Pocock said Australian music had “helped shape the character of our nation”, and artists were entitled to a fair crack at the negotiating table as a result.

Songs on radio are comprised of two forms of copyright, the composition – such as the lyrics – and the sound recording itself. The latter is subject to a cap.

If an agreement cannot be struck on the sound recording royalties, the Copyright Tribunal cannot determine a rate higher than one per cent of a commercial radio broadcaster’s gross annual income.

Composers and songwriters were paid almost four times this at 3.76 per cent, according to a 2019 parliamentary inquiry.

This means when “Khe Sanh” is played on the radio, songwriter Don Walker will be paid a greater royalty than Jimmy Barnes.

A combined 260 commercial stations paid artists and rights holders about $4.4 million in royalties in the last financial year.

The ABC pays around $125,000 for the recording rights across its stations, with its cap set at 0.5 cents per head of population.

Shadow attorney-general Michaelia Cash said the opposition was concerned a sudden cost on smaller commercial radio stations – about 220 of which were in regional areas – would force closures and wreck local content by adding to pressures already faced from streaming services.

But River, who grew up in the regional town of Forster in NSW, hit back, saying 80 per cent of regional stations were owned by large commercial networks and communities would be all for supporting their local artists.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young threw the Greens’ support behind the push.

“Every time there are songs played on the radio, there is a sense that, ‘Oh, Jack River has got her song on the radio, she must be raking it in’,” she said.

“If anything, she’s been ripped off and it’s time we fix that.”

No Labor senator spoke on the bill, leaving its future in limbo without the government’s support.

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