The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a public notice (the Notice) seeking comment on the MusicFIRST Coalition's (MusicFIRST) petition to commence an FCC investigation into alleged actions by certain radio broadcasters in opposition to the Performance Rights Act (PRA) (the PRA is legislation pending before Congress that would provide for the payment of royalties to artists and musicians when their work is played publicly on terrestrial radio). Comments and reply comments are due September 8 and September 23, 2009, respectively.

MusicFIRST alleges that certain broadcasters "us[ed] their licenses over public airwaves to promote their own pecuniary interests and to distort an important matter of public debate." Among other things, the group urges the FCC to rule that the actions of these radio broadcasters are contrary to the public interest and to mandate that broadcasters cease these efforts. The Notice asks:

  • Whether and to what extent certain broadcasters are "targeting and threatening artists who have spoken out in favor of the PRA," including a refusal to air the music of these artists;
  • What are the effects of radio broadcasters' alleged refusal to air advertisements from MusicFIRST in support of the PRA;
  • Whether and to what extent broadcasters are engaging in a media campaign, coordinated by National Association of Broadcasters, that disseminates falsities about the PRA; and
  • Whether certain broadcasters have evaded the public file requirements by characterizing their on-air spots in opposition to the PRA as public service announcements.

The Commission notes that such an examination of speech implicates the First Amendment and questions whether remedies are necessary or available to address the actions alleged by MusicFIRST. In addition to the specific questions it poses, therefore, the Notice solicits comment on any related issues that would inform the FCC and contribute toward the compilation of a complete factual record.

A copy of the Notice is available here.