Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Roundup: The Performance Rights Act

June 16, 2010

The Performance Rights Act (PRA) has been a frequent topic here on the Radio 2020 blog ever since its inception, and with good reason. The legislation as it stands could have massive negative repercussions for the radio industry at all levels. Among other things, the new royalty structure will almost certainly result in the labels revisiting their contracts with artists if it passes — not something many have considered. This is only one of many ramifications that will rear their ugly heads if the PRA gets passed.

Let’s take a quick trip in a time machine and revisit my prior postings on the subject. For the benefit of our readers, here is a nice array of data on the subject. These posts range from October 2009 to the present and are presented oldest to newest in this list.

The Performance Rights Act is a very serious issue and it could still go one way or the other, so please educate yourself on the subject. Make an informed decision and let your Representative know your views!

Image: D. Reichardt / CC 2.0

Performance Rights Act, A New Wrinkle

June 14, 2010

The Performance Rights Act (PRA) has been a fairly constant topic here and on other radio-centric websites. The push for additional royalties it represents has a broad array of implications for broadcasters, labels, and artists.

Imagine my surprise, after writing extensively on the subject for so long, when I find a completely new and worrisome aspect of the legislation that had heretofore eluded me.  I stumbled across this excellent analysis of the PRA debate by Stephen Koff , The Plain Dealer‘s Washington bureau chief, that was syndicated on Cleveland.com.

It covers things in a very even-handed fashion, but most importantly it gives us the following observation:

Meanwhile, Rex Glensy, a former entertainment lawyer who teaches at Drexel University’s law school, says a radio performance royalty could alter the dynamics of record contracts. If there’s money involved — especially more money for the artist than the label envisioned — it’s bound to happen, he says.

He uses the example of Barbra Streisand performing a Cole Porter song and releasing it on CBS Records. Right now, the only party getting radio royalties would be the estate of Cole Porter.

Under the recording industry proposal, Cole Porter’s heirs would still get their money, but additional revenue would go to Streisand and the record company.

“You know what will happen?” Glensy says. “All of a sudden Barbra Streisand is going to hear a knock at her door and see CBS saying, ‘We want to renegotiate your contract.'”

That’s the problem with changing anything related to copyright, Glensy says. It inevitably affects every other piece of the business.

I’m personally thunderstruck that I did not think of this earlier. As with most legislation, it is the cascade of secondary and tertiary effects that can wreak the most far reaching changes.  I’m pretty sure that most of the artists supporting this misguided legislation are unaware that things could play out this way either.

Image: tacomabibelot / CC 2.0

Blagojevich’s Radio Show Pulled During Trial

June 4, 2010

Followers of Chicago radio are well aware of the show that embattled former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been hosting since shortly after the scandal broke. WLS-AM has pulled the show from the air pending the completion of Blagojevich’s corruption trial.

The hiatus was announced during his appearance on the Don Wade and Roma Morning Show last Wednesday. The Huffington Post reports the following statement made on the show:

“Out of respect for the legal process, WLS radio is putting the Rod Blagojevich Show on ‘hiatus’ effective immediately,” Operations Director Drew Hayes wrote in a statement read by Wade and Roma. “After the trial has concluded, we will review the status of the program.”

Whichever way things go, this should be fascinating radio coverage, especially as Blogojevich intends to take the stand.  Chris Meincke at ABC Chicago brings us Mr. Blagjevich’s own words on the subject:

“I never could understand these politicians who said they never did anything wrong and then when they’re given the chance to say they didn’t do anything wrong, where it matters in court, they don’t do it. So, yes, I’m gonna do it and Patti’s gonna do it. We have the truth on our side,” said Blagojevich.

It has been very interesting watching the course of his radio program, and I wonder if we will see it return to the air. I also wonder if his on-air presence will influence the jury selection. After all, radio is everywhere and he has had more than ample time to disseminate his views.

If found guilty I doubt his show will be renewed. But if he is innocent? What do you think?

Image: RichieC / CC 2.0

Black Radio and The Performance Rights Act

May 26, 2010

Since its introduction, I have written extensively here about the Performance Rights Act (PRA). The PRA, sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. John Conyers, would require traditional radio stations to pay performance royalties as well as the ones that are already paid to the songwriter. On the surface it seems like a good idea, but examination reveals its flaws quite readily.

One of the most worrisome flaws being the effect that the legislation could have on minority-owned stations. Of course, like everything else pertaining to this act, there is viscous argument on the subject. Elliot Millner at BlackVoices hit on some excellent perspectives in his recent post on the subject:

The main beneficiary of the Performance Rights Act (if passed) would not be the recording artists whose music is being played; it would be the record labels, who would reap the benefits of most of the royalties collected, just as they receive the majority of the money from artists’ album sales. Also, the main beneficiaries of the Performance Rights Act not passing would not be black radio; it would be large broadcast radio corporations, both black-owned and others, which would escape having to compensate artists for using their music.

Despite the fact that the post contains an overall hostile stance towards large broadcasters, you’ll notice he agrees with my stance that the labels, not the artists, would be the primary beneficiaries of the PRA. I propose that this underscores the validity of my assertion.

He goes on to share his excoriating opinions of big broadcasters, but then at the end of the post comes a fascinating observation:

This is yet another unfortunate instance of divide and conquer: Instead of attacking the entities (record labels) that are whoring them both, radio broadcasters and artists have chosen to go to war with each other. Ultimately, the only winner in this drama will be the record companies, who will continue to prosper (relatively speaking) in tough times, while those that should be waging war against them continue to foolishly attack each other.

Now, I’ve often commented on the fact that it’s a shame that so many artists are unable to see how the labels are leveraging them. High-profile spokesmen are terrific for any cause. I had not, however, given consideration to the “divide and conquer” aspect of the struggle.

Despite our differing on a few things, I think that Mr. Millner and I agree on several aspects of the situation. Somehow I don’t think getting “played” by the labels will be as good for the artists as getting played on the radio has been.

Image: Daehyun Park Rights: CC 2.0

Performance Rights Act: Civil Rights Leaders Weigh In

May 19, 2010

When people think of civil rights issues, they tend to think of the obvious things: racial profiling, job discrimination, etc. In real life, things are rarely quite so neat. This is a truth that civil rights proponents are well aware of. Lately, many of the higher profile names in this arena have begun to cast their eyes upon the Performance Rights Act (PRA). Politic365 recently did a special report about this, leading off with this quote:

[…] as Rev. Al Sharpton told Politic365, “often it is the quiet bills, the obscure bills, the so-called “specialized” bills, the bills no one seems to know much about, that can hurt Black folks the most if we’re not paying attention.”  A textbook example, according to Rev. Sharpton and other civil rights advocates interviewed byPolitic365, is the “Performance Royalty” legislation that many advocates believe would throw Black radio into a deep tailspin.

Anyone familiar with the ways of Washington is aware of the way that bills are often attached to higher priority legislation in order to pass. It is a daily occurrence on Capitol Hill. In addition, the impact of this legislation on minority-owned radio has long been a bone of contention, inspiring truly bipartisan efforts on both sides of the issue.

But now the heavy hitters from the civil rights scene are weighing in on the legislation and their thoughts on the PRA are not exactly complimentary. Here is another example drawn from the same report:

MMTC [Minority Media and Telecommunications Council] warns that “misinformation is circulating in the civil rights community suggesting that the legislation will not harm minority radio.  In fact, black and Spanish radio would be hit the hardest by this legislation because these stations face the greatest challenges” – including weaker signals, advertising discrimination, and the FCC’s failure to enforce its equal employment opportunity rules.  MMTC reports that it has conservatively estimated that the legislation would throw at least a third of minority owned stations over the cliff into bankruptcy.  The National Association of Media Brokers (NAMB) agrees, adding that “the imposition of a performance royalty on free, over-the-air broadcast stations will be crippling to the broadcast industry in general, and be particularly devastating to minority broadcasters and their audiences, as well as to other new entrants to the industry.”

This is particularly distressing if you take into account the research findings referenced in the Politics365 special report. According to that report, the value of  radio airplay directly translates to approximately $2 billion in annual music sales, and that number excludes radio’s promotional impact on concert and merchandise based income.

Opponents of the Performance Rights Act include civil rights luminaries such as the Rev. Al Sharpton, Dick Gregory, and Tom Joyner. In addition, fifteen members of the Congressional Black Caucus have also expressed their concerns, including Elijah Cummings, Danny Davis, Al Green, John Lewis, Charlie Rangel, and Bobby Rush. That is one impressive roll call if you ask me.

In the end, though, it was Rev. Sharpton who posed the vital question of the day:

“Why in the world would the Democrats at the Commerce Department do this to Black radio – and to radio period?  It doesn’t make sense from a political, social or economic perspective.  If it passes, this bill would have a devastating effect on Black communities.”

What do you think?

Image: marriageequalityCC BY 2.0

Thank You, Ben Nelson!

May 3, 2010

Washington, D.C., is not a very straightforward place. Legislation is the result of deals, compromises, lobbyist influence, and many other factors. These find their way into law in the most roundabout ways at times. One standard approach is to take some piece of legislation — in this case the odious Performance Rights Act (PRA) — and attach it to some “must pass” measure up for vote. That way, its native popularity level has nothing to do with it being enacted. It happens all the time.

Enter Ben Nelson (D- NE), who chairs the Legislative Subcommittee, which oversees the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB). The CRB is the organization that would administrate PRA if it gets passed. The excellent thing is that he is on our side of the fight.

As RadioBusinessReport notes, he made mention of the PRA in a recent address about the CRB’s budget for 2011:

“As a brief aside, I continue to hear from a number of organizations concerned about the performance royalties bill that would affect local radio stations,” said Nelson. “I make this brief note here only because of the Copyright Royalty Board’s potential role under this legislation. Along with many of my colleagues I continue to oppose this bill and would not support an attempt to attach such legislation to an appropriations bill whether it is this one or any of the others.”

This is a step in the right direction!  Having someone in the right position to prevent the classic political sleight of hand is something that I find reassuring. Having grown up in  family of lawyers, I have seen all to well the winding path taken by even the most innocuous legislation.

Support for the Local Radio Freedom Act, which opposes the proposed royalty structures, is one of the only true bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill, or at least in the House of Representatives. Too many remain off the record in the Senate to have a clear idea of where things stand with them. Nelson’s stance in keeping that back door shut will hopefully make the ongoing battle in the Senate a more straightforward and honest one.

Image: Senate portrait / Public Domain

The Performance Rights Act: NAB CEO Gordon Smith Speaks Out

April 27, 2010

As usual every few days, it is now time to cast a jaundiced eye on that misguided piece of legislation called The Performance Rights Act. [If you missed it, the PRA is an attempt to add a royalty for performers to the royalties already paid to ASCAP and others by broadcast radio. Search the blog and you’ll find numerous postings on the subject.]

Today, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) CEO Gordon Brown takes the battle to The Washington Post where he enumerates the flaws in this legislation, many of which I’m happy to see coincide with my own.

He starts off with one of my particular gripes — the fact that half of this money, touted as going to the artists, actually goes straight into the pockets of the record labels. For those of you paying attention to economic pattern displayed here, that means that most of it is leaving the country immediately. That’s not what sets my teeth on edge, though.

What about the rest of the money? That goes to the artists, right? Not necessarily:

With 50 percent in the labels’ pocket, the remaining money would be divvied up by SoundExchange, an organization launched by the RIAA to collect and dispense royalty payments to artists. The disbursement would be split 45 percent for the featured artist and 5 percent for the background musicians — if SoundExchange can locate them. But given media reports that SoundExchange had trouble finding the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the location loophole seems to be a rather big “if.”

And there we have my biggest issue with all of this, paying the artists is the job of the record labels — one they do not have a history of being good at.

The record label claim that this legislation is about “fairness to artists” is dubious. D.C. native Herb Feemster of Peaches & Herb” fame — as well as artists ranging from Benny Goodman to Pink Floyd to Cher — had to file lawsuits against their record labels to recoup unpaid royalties.

Contrast the record label exploitation of artists with that of radio stations that advance the careers of musicians with free airplay and concert promotions. With a growing audience of 239 million weekly listeners, free and local radio remains an unparalleled promotional platform for music, generating untold billions in album and concert sales and merchandising opportunities.

You see, I’m in my mid-forties. I remember in my high school and collegiate years it seems like there was always a battle between some artist who had not gotten paid and his label. The Jimi Hendrix estate went through all kinds of absurdity over issues like that. Never once, then or when I was producing shows, did I hear anyone complaining about radio unless it was because they were not on it.

I’ve been an activist on behalf of artists for a long time now, as most people in New Orleans can attest, and as such, it pains me to see the RIAA preaching concern for their artists as a smokescreen for efforts to shore up their failing business model. Just because they are on the ropes in the post-Napster / iTunes age does not mean that our industry should be jeopardized to pay their bills.

Image: abstractstvCC BY-ND 2.0

Wonkette Sounds Off On Performance Rights Act

April 21, 2010

If by some strange chance you are unfamiliar with the Performance Rights Act (PRA),  just use the search box in the sidebar. I’ll wait here.

It’s been trudging through Congress for a while now and if passed, could spell huge trouble for the radio industry. The thing that is really unique about it is that both the support and the opposition to it are truly bipartisan.

That’s right. I said bipartisan. One of the only instances in modern politics where you are equally likely to find a Republican as a Democrat on either side. Case in point: liberal blogger Wonkette taking Nancy Pelosi to task for supporting this ugly piece of legislation:

Pelosi went to some “advocacy event” hosted by the Recording Academy — makers of the televised witchcraft spectacle the Grammy Awards — to talk about this thing called the Performance Rights Act, which would make radio stations pay some sort of compensation for that musical stuff they play. She said there’s an “army of advocates” in Congress who are working extra-hard to pass this socialists-for-vocalists scheme, because they nothing better to do. Where is America’s “army,” of freedom?

The radio stations are not down with this pro-welfare initiative at all! Because they are already doing enough for Ke$ha and these other music losers by promoting them all the time, for free.

Harsh words, but that is what she is known for. The important thing here is that this is not the standard pattern of modern politics with Left going after Right and vice-versa.  No. Rather, it is an illustration of the fact that this argument is more basic than party loyalties.

While I don’t agree with Wonkette’s classification of musicians as “music losers,” I do thank her for her support. This issue needs more exposure to the general public, and I think that all of us in the industry are thankful for every blogger and every journalist that takes our cause to the public. After all, it is the public that can make a difference by making their opinions known to their representatives.

Image: Wonkette Logo / Fair Use: reporting

The Pot Legalization Battle Goes On The Air

April 16, 2010

Yes, we are looking at marijuana and the airwaves again today. It is time to, since this week saw the launch of the first radio ad supporting legalization. From a purely neutral standpoint, this is something to be well aware of. After all, as Radio Business Report stated:

This is the kind of hot-button issue that will likely generate considerable interest, not just in California, but nationally. If supporters maintain an air presence, there will almost certainly be pushback from opponents, and cash from interested parties in other parts of the US could also flow into the state.

So pay attention. In this initial round, we have a pro-legalization ad that runs about a minute in length. It will be in rotation for a week and a half in the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets. The question is will it maintain and/or gain momentum or will it fizzle out and pass. If the former occurs, backlash from the opposing side is certain, as is the accompanying advertising spend.

So what does this first salvo sound like? John Hoeffle at The Los Angeles Times gives us a synopsis:

The ad features Jeffrey Studdard, a former school district police officer and reserve L.A. County sheriff’s deputy. Studdard says that he has “seen firsthand that the current approach on cannabis is simply not working,” explaining that the fight against marijuana has led to “violent drug cartels” and “dealers in our schools and our streets” without reducing consumption.

He concludes by saying the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, which would allow cities and counties to authorize pot sales and tax them, would raise billions and allow police to focus on violent crime.

According to Hoeffle’s article, the group has  hopes to raise funds for further rotations of this ad as well as  plans for other radio and television spots featuring police officers, judges, doctors, teachers and parents. I would say that we are looking at the beginning of a political ad trend that will buy a lot of airtime over the course of 2010.

There is a very real possibility that this is a trend to watch. With politics as polarized as they are in modern-day America, an issue this controversial is likely to spark as we enter the coming round of elections.

Note: Comments on this post will be sternly moderated. They are not for the purpose of arguing for or against legalization and they are not a place to discuss the politics of the story. Those comments will be summarily deleted.

Image: thoht / CC BY 2.0

Views and News: The Performance Rights Act

April 1, 2010

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