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As a 200-person “Save Black Radio” rally was held in Detroit, the House Judiciary Committee today passed a controversial bill to impose a performer’s fee on over-the-air radio stations.

The Performance Rights Act would change law so that AM and FM radio stations would pay performers to play their songs, as is true of satellite, cable and Internet music services. All four music platforms pay songwriters for use of their work.

The final vote was 21 to 9. The bill moves to the House floor for a full vote. The Senate has a companion bill pending action.

The committee approved by voice vote a “manager’s amendment” by Chairman John Conyers, D-Detroit, to try to address critics — including Radio One Detroit — who contend the bill threatens the survival of minority and women-owned stations during rocky economic times.

“This is not a revolutionary concept,” Conyers said of the proposed performer’s fee for AM and FM stations. “Everybody gets paid for their creativity and their work.”

About 200 marchers joined local radio hosts Mildred Gaddis and Reggie Reg outside of Conyer’s office in Detroit, chanting, “No to the bill on the hill,” and, “Save black radio,” as supporters honked as they passed. Branding the new fee a “tax,” many critics argued it could destroy small broadcasters, including minority and women-owned stations that provide valuable diversity on the airwaves.

“This is crucial; this is critical,” Gaddis, host at WCHB-AM (1200), said. “(Conyers) is generally 95 percent of the time on the right side. He’s on the wrong side on this one.”

Conyers and other committee members said their offices had been flooded by critics of the bill.

Conyers said he shares the concern about the potential impact of new fees on small broadcasters.

As a result, he proposed changes that were agreed to that create a sliding fee scale for small broadcasters and delays the start date of payments:

• Stations with annual gross revenues of less than $100,000 would pay $500 each year. Those with gross revenues between $100,000 and $500,000 would pay $2,500. Those between $500,000 and $1.25 million would pay a royalty fee of $5,000 per year.

In the original bill, stations with gross revenues of less than $1.25 million would pay a flat fee of $5,000.

Conyers said the change to a sliding fee would affect 90 percent of all minority-owned radio stations, and 77 percent of all radio stations.

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