The Performance Rights Act: Endangering Diversity

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The Media Institute, a nonprofit research foundation focusing on communications-oriented policy issues, has released a report in which they set forth their opposition to the Performance Rights Act (PRA). You can download the full report, something I recommend that you do, here: Performance Fees on Radio Stations: A Debacle Waiting To Happen (pdf). FMQB describes it thus:

The paper reinforces the view that radio broadcasters and record labels have enjoyed a “mutually beneficial economic relationship” in which broadcasters play recordings available for free, thereby building audiences and ad revenue, while record labels get the benefit of that free airplay to boost record sales. Imposing a royalty scheme on broadcasters would not only upset this equilibrium, but would likely force a significant number of stations into bankruptcy or off the air altogether. Black and Hispanic stations would bear the brunt of compulsory performance fees for sound recordings, and the loss of such stations would be particularly acute for Black and Hispanic communities where local radio stations are “a primary venue for the expression of minority and ethnic viewpoints,” the paper states.

Common sense arguments in my opinion, and ones that I, among others, have voiced repeatedly since the beginning. It is of particular concern that these destabilizing financial burdens would be introduced during an economy in which everyone is hurting. There is too much economic chaos now for this to bring anything but ill for the medium. The truly unfortunate part is that the music industry itself will end up destabilized shortly afterwards.

[Media Institute VP Richard T.] Kaplar continues “Record companies should not try to kill the ‘golden goose’ of radio broadcasting in an effort to boost their bottom lines. Free music for free airplay has stood the test of time. It’s an arrangement that is not broken, and does not need to be fixed.” [Via FMQB]

It’s not just minority-owned stations either. Another aspect, and one not frequently touched upon, is the consequence to college radio should this pass. When the subject comes up, it is usually dismissed by noting that limitations have been added to the PRA, an average cap of $500 for small stations. That’s not too bad, is it? Actually, it is. College radio station budgets are not usually known for their lavish nature. Andrew Scott of  DakotaStudent.com puts it in perspective:

St. Cloud State University student run radio gets approximately $14,000 a year from Student Government funding. Their total operations are nearly two thousand dollars more, roughly 16,000 total, an amount they need to make up in advertising and raising money. The new $500 imposed tax would represent 25% of what they need to just break even.

Suddenly that innocent sounding $500 begins to look a lot more ominous. Since college radio is the initial jumping off point for bands, this is distinctly disturbing.  It is the vital link between playing in a basement or in small clubs, and breaking into commercial radio and national audiences.

RBR-TVBR observation :

College programmers will tell you that bands and labels call them all the time. They want to get on the air on campus. It’ll help them fill clubs and other performance venues, it’ll help sell t-shirts and other paraphernalia, and it might even move a few CDs and legal downloads. The exposure is worth far more than the pittance all musicians other than those already famous are going to receive from royalties.

And all the recording industry can think to do is panhandle the limited student fund for $500? Pathetic.

It’s pretty obvious that if the Performance Rights Act passes, it will hurt the industry as a whole, but the hardest hit will be the little guy. College stations, minority-owned stations and independent operators will all be looking at significant new burdens that could prove devastating.

The bill has been introduced and passed by committees; now the House and Senate need to vote. Like free radio? Take a moment to sign the online petition and send a letter to your congressperson.

Image: andreannegermain / CC BY 2.0
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