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The film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou ironically illustrates two points that are relevant in in the context of copyright law within the music industry. First, it displays the strength of radio play on new artists’ lives, careers, and incomes, which was crucial for bluegrass and string-band artist. Second, the film highlights the distinction between the sound-recording copy-holder’s exclusive right to publicly perform their copyrighted sound recording live and the absence of any such right concerning terrestrial radio broadcasts. The absence of a public-performance right for broadcasts of copyrighted sound recordings by terrestrial radio stations (and the resulting non-incurrence of royalty payments by sound-recording copyholders from terrestrial radio stations) is called the terrestrial radio exemption. And the recent Classics Protection and Access Act, which equitably reformed many aspects of the federal statutory royalty-payment scheme, preserved the exemption.

This Article demonstrates that the recently proposed American Music Fairness Act is a much-needed supplement to the Classics Protection and Access Act because it would eliminate the terrestrial radio exemption. This would promote parity with other developed nations, such as the Czech Republic and Japan, who have thriving bluegrass scenes, and would help American artists receive royalties abroad. More importantly, eliminating the terrestrial radio exemption would honor the intellectual property rights of bluegrass and Appalachian folk artists.

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