Views and News: The Performance Rights Act

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It’s time to return to the topic of the Performance Rights Act (PRA), the misguided effort of the record labels to save their failing business model at the expense of broadcasters. There were a number of news items over the last month dealing with this contentious piece of litigation, and today I’m going to corral a number of them here for your edification. So here we go, folks!

The PRA was originally put forth by John Conyers (D-MI) who has continually pushed this cause, so it must have smarted a bit early in March when his fellow Democrat from MI, John Dingell, said the following at a National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) event (via Radio Business Report):

[…]  “I’d like to express my opposition to legislation imposing a performance tax on broadcasters. I am concerned that such a tax would be of less benefit to recording artists than to record labels, many of which are based abroad. Further, recording artists and record labels have profited handsomely for years from the free publicity they get from broadcasters, a mutually beneficial relationship that a performance tax will destroy. Lastly, and perhaps most practically, it seems ridiculous to me to impose a new punitive fee on broadcasters during this time of recession, especially as broadcasters have seen their revenues decrease by up to 40 percent over the past several years.”

Now let’s jump over to the Indiana Daily Student out of Indiana University. They bring us a few quotes from small local artists, the kind I purport this will injure the most if it passes. The responses seem to uniformly mirror my own views:

Christopher Reynolds, lead singer and songwriter of the band Strictly Off the Record, said while it is true some rights holders are the artists themselves, these musicians are usually independent and untested.

“Adding any additional fee for every song played is going to make stations unwilling to take risks on unproven artists,” Reynolds said.

Adam Turla, lead singer of the band Murder by Death, said he appreciated the idea of trying to compensate artists, but the act itself “seems kinda like a mess.”

“Radio isn’t a main source of income for mid-level or small level bands, nor would it be if this act passed,” Turla said. “To generate any reasonable amount of money from radio plays you need a single that gets played over and over all over the place.”

How about the view from the station side? Cathy Hughes of Radio One did a great interview with The Altlanta Post in which the PRA was touched upon. Here is a snippet from her perspective:

I’m [against the Performance Rights Act, because] I already spend $14 million a year paying the writers and the publishers. It’s a record company’s job to pay the performers. I don’t even know a performer exists until a record company brings me a finished product! It’s like having to pay child support for a baby that’s not yours. I agree the baby should be supported, but I ain’t the mama! Those artists should definitely be paid by the record companies that are ripping me off. We don’t know even know that Rihanna exists—we don’t even know the girl is born—until the record company walks in and says here is the new release by a new artist named Rihanna.

And then to complete the tour, let’s return to Capitol Hill where we see something amazing bipartisan cooperation. That’s right, a coordinated effort by people from both sides of the political aisle.  A few days ago, a group composed of 63 Republicans and 56 Democrats wrote to their respective party leaders asking that the PRA stays off the House floor both as a stand-alone bill and as an add-on to other legislation. The letter was sent to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and to Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).

These letters cite the current economic climate and potential loss of jobs, but that is far from all (via Radio Business Report):

Further, they note that the “primary beneficiaries of the potentially billions of dollars generated under this legislation are the major record labels.” The Reps then note that three of the four are “owned by international entities on foreign shores.”

“Congress should not be enriching one industry at the expense of another,” they argued, “particularly when it could put thousands of American radio jobs at risk, harm local radio stations and hurt our communities who rely on radio for news, weather and emergency alert information.”

They also mention the 254 House Members who have signed on to the Local Radio Freedom Act in opposition to PRA. That number has since risen to 260.

Let us hope that the party leadership listens to this missive. The purely bipartisan nature of the request alone should make any smart politician sit up and take notice in an era where vitriol and obstructionist politics are the norm. I would think that this is a great opportunity to show that the Left and the Right can collaborate, something that would enhance the public view of both sides.

One last note: the aforementioned letter includes something I consider vital. As anyone who follows politics can tell you, a lot of legislation is made by attaching it to “must pass” bills coming across the floor. The abjuration against it being allowed as an add-on is amazingly important for that reason. Contact your Representatives and tell them to stand up against the Performance Rights Act!

Image: Seal of US House of Representatives / Fair Use: Public

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