Recording artists have a three-word answer for a House-passed proposal to exempt businesses that play their tunes on radios and televisions from paying royalties: "Hold the music."

The House, declaring itself on the side of small-business owners, attached the exemption Wednesday to a copyright extension measure that later passed by voice vote.But singers and songwriters said the fact that they, too, are small-business people struggling to make a living got lost in the extended debate over the provision.

"The songs are our business. This is what we sell," said Motown star Smokey Robinson, who lobbied House members and watched the debate.

Frances Preston, president of Broadcast Music Inc., which represents 200,000 songwriters, composers and music publishers, said the provision amounted to a "direct attack on struggling songwriters" by "making it legal for businesses to use a creator's property without paying for it."

The Senate must still vote on the bill.

The sponsor, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said the exemption would keep music licensing organizations from collecting royalty payments from businesses for material that has already been paid for many times over. It is backed by such groups as the National Restaurant Association and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

The American Society of Composers said its members could lose at least 15 percent of their income.

ASCAP's average licensing fee amounts to $1.58 per day.