Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

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


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

Additional Royalties: Still Unjustified

March 5, 2010

Okay, folks. Brace yourselves, as today I will be opinionated. There is a lot flying around the media about the Performance Rights Act (PRA), or as our sponsors at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) call it, the Performance Tax.  One of the most common assertions of those who support it is that the money collected goes to the artists. That’s not quite so accurate, as it turns out.

A lot of big names in music have stepped up to support the PRA, most recently Dionne Warwick, who personally lobbied Congress in support of the legislation. Big names, indeed. Funny, isn’t it, how no one of less than millionaire standing seems to support this. Why is that?

Could it be because there is no fonder ambition for most up-and-comers than to get some airplay? I think so. That promotion is vital, and is marked by increasing stages of success: local airplay, regional airplay, and national airplay. It has always been, and continues to be, the chief means of discovering new music.

Now, I’m sure there are those among you shaking your heads and thinking that I am “corporate shill” as you read this. I beg to differ. I spent several years in New Orleans working as a promoter of grassroots-level art and music. I’ve had the pleasure of working with bands ranging in genre from bluegrass to death metal. Most of my work in radio has been at either college or community stations. I’m about as far from a “corporate shill” as you can get.

What I do have is perspective gained from watching band after band shooting for airplay. Too many of the high-profile supporters of the PRA desire performance royalties. To unsigned bands, it creates a barrier. As a station manager responsible for the bottom line, would you be as willing to be adventurous in your choice of playlist if you had additional fees to deal with? Probably not, especially during economic times like these. As a result, it becomes harder and harder to break new music. Sounds like it really helps the artists, doesn’t it?

I agree wholeheartedly with Corey Dietz in his recent column on’s Radio section:

Most struggling bands would kill to receive substantial radio airplay which solidifies the standing of a band or artist on a national scale. In this respect, the trade between radio airplay and not having to pay the performer a royalty is more than justified. That’s just my opinion – you can leave yours below.

Local Radio Freeedom Act: You’ve Got Mail!

October 23, 2009

Lincoln-portrait-2007-sized_1Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) were the recipients of a letter recently. It was handcrafted by Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and John Barrasso (R-WY), co-sponsors of the Senate version of the Local Radio Freedom Act (LRFA).

The LRFA is a response to the Performance Rights Act (PRA) currently working its way across Capitol Hill. Where the PRA wishes to impose additional royalty fees upon broadcasters, the LRFA seeks to keep them from being enacted.

John Lyon at Arkansas News provides an excerpt from the letter, in italics below:

“We believe that artists and their labels are currently more than fairly compensated by local radio stations in the form of free and unparalleled promotion. Free radio reaches over 235 million potential music consumers each week,” the letter said.

“These listeners hear a song on the radio and then go on to purchase CDs and music downloads, buy concert tickets and purchase other merchandise that goes directly to the artists and their labels.”

Radio’s unparalleled reach has launched the careers of almost every musical name of note, taking small local or regional acts and putting them before larger and larger audiences. In addition, the labels themselves would be keeping more than half of the collected fees rather than the artists.

Lincoln and Barrasso argued that in the current economic climate, new fees would be devastating to radio stations. More than 265 stations have gone off the air in just over a year, and more would go out of business or switch to all-talk formats if the Performance Rights Act were to become law, they said.

I’d like to point out the additional danger, one that is quite tangible to most musicians. Many stations, unwilling or unable to pay additional royalties, will only play the “safe” or established tunes, the ones “with a track record.” We could miss the next generation’s Elvis because no one wants to take the risk.

“Further, should this fee be imposed on free radio, it is only a matter of time before other businesses such as restaurants, bars, taxi cabs and hotels are forced to pay for their use of music,” Lincoln and Barrasso wrote.

Think about your average week. Think about how often radio intersects your day, directly or in an ambient fashion. Now imagine that content gone. Gone, or switched entirely to talk. Cab rides become more boring, construction sites merely ring with the sound of hammers, road trips with the same few CDs over and over again. Think about it.

Radio Business Report chimed in on one aspect of this that regular readers know is important to me on a personal level, possible consequences during disasters:

Among the ill effects would be damaging the ability of broadcasters to respond to the challenge in times of emergency – especially when wires are knocked down or otherwise disabled and over-the-air broadcasting becomes the only way to get critical emergency information to the masses.

If we suffer a rash of radio closures because of the PRA, that would leave places like my home town of New Orleans in a bad spot come hurricane season (or its equivalent). I know what it’s like to rely on a radio for info in a disaster zone. Trust me, this one aspect is vital.

Noting the widespread support in the Senate, they concluded, “This legislation clearly evokes strong opposition that transcends party affiliation. As leaders of our two parties, we ask that you oppose any effort to move this bill, either as a stand alone measure or as part of a broader legislative package.”

A sentiment I echo, especially the last part. Unpopular bills often get passed by tacking them on to legislation that is considered “vital.” I hope that Lincoln and Boasso maintain vigilance against this sort of politicking and prevent it.

Image: Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Official Senate Photo / Public Domain: Govt.

Royalties in Mind: C-Span The Communicators

October 7, 2009

cspanExcitement is not the word that usually comes to mind when people think about C-Span. This weekend, however, there was excitement to be had, at least if you have an interest in radio. Steve Newberry, Joint Board Chair for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Commonwealth Broadcasting President/CEO, appeared on The Communicators and his topic was the Performance Rights Act.

Mr. Newberry expressed an opinion that I share, that the recording industry is completely invested in a failing business model and are attempting to stop the financial hemorrhage by coming to broadcasters with their hands outstretched. If that were not the case, then why is it that 50% of the royalties collected are supposed to go into studio coffers as  opposed to being distributed to the artists?

He also addressed one aspect of the ongoing argument that is left by the wayside way to often: our responsibility to the next generation of performers. Radio Ink delivers the direct quote:

“But if we do see [performance royalties] happen, and radio stations are forced to pay, I think that one of the unintended consequences could very well be that it becomes a pure business transaction, and radio stations are forced to do one of two things: expect compensation or a pure business investment, a return on my investment. If I am paying … you’d better believe that I am going to be much less willing to take a risk on new artists or unknown artists, and I am going to play those that have the most consistent performance recognition. And you could see the new and evolving artists really take it on the chin.”

When you look around at the complaints levied at commercial radio, one of the most often seen is the assertion of a lack of variety. True or false, this is a mere glimpse of what the musical future could be like in the wake of this sort of financial juggling. If stations are no longer willing, or no longer able, to afford to take chances on new music, then the artists that the Performance Rights Act purports to benefit will be muzzled over the long run.

This is setting up our creatives for failure, just to provide a few pieces of silver for the labels. Yes, there are inequities in the way things are now, but if you do a little digging, you will find that the majority of the horror stories come from artist interactions with their labels, not with radio. I believe that the family of Jimi Hendrix is only one out of many that would attest to this.

The C-Span piece can be watched online, and also includes Duke Fakir, an original member of The Four Tops, as the proponent of the act. One of his main supporting arguments is that Internet and Satellite already pay performance royalties and since they’re just the same as radio, broadcast should as well. I find this argument to be invalid. The royalties paid by these two types of media were originally brought about on the grounds that both Internet and Satellite “radio” were in fact completely new and different species of media and in need of a new structure. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.

Image: C-Span Logo / Fair Use: Reporting

Local Radio Freedom Act Gains Support on Capitol Hill

February 26, 2009


The Local Radio Freedom Act (the short form) –  “Congress should not impose any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge relating to the public performance of sound recordings on a local radio station for broadcasting sound recordings over-the-air, or on any business for such public performance of sound recordings.”

A vitally important piece of legislation, the Local Radio Freedom Act has now gained 16 new co-sponsors on Capitol Hill, for a current grand total of 126 — 85 Republicans and 41 Democrats.

During more than ten years working with music, I have often heard bands complaining about their treatment at the hands of their labels, yet almost never did I hear anything derogatory about radio. This, to the observant, is a good initial indicator.

FMQB brings us the following quote, which does a beautiful job of summing up some of the more economically dangerous aspects of the RIAA proposed royalty structure:

Free Radio Alliance spokesperson Cathy Rought added, “All the star power in the world can’t make the record labels’ performance tax work for communities across America. The record labels’ proposal to levy a performance tax on radio would bankrupt the very stations that make them — and the artists — successful. On top of the threat it would pose to the more than 106,000 radio jobs across America, this legislation would be the death of diversity over our airwaves. Local stations would become even more unaffordable, preventing more women and minorities from entering the business and achieving the dream of ownership. The notion that radio is somehow harming property rights is silly; the artist is in essence, an employee of the label and is supposed to be paid by the label, much like many other creative fields. If the musicFIRST goal is truly to protect the artist, they should be starting with the labels’ notorious compensation issues, not radio whose airplay generates over $2 billion in annual sales for the artist.”

This is an issue that not only affects artists and broadcasters, but also has far reaching ramification in the current global recession. Can we really afford to place this many jobs and businesses in danger during times so precarious? If you think not, then I advise contacting your local representatives and let them know why they need to support the Local Radio Freedom Act!

Photo courtesy of Rhys Bennett, used under its Creative Commons license

Weather Radio Bill Expires on Senate Floor

December 26, 2008


A bill that passed in the House of Representatives earlier this year has been killed on the Senate floor. The bill in question was one that proposed making weather radios a mandatory component of all new mobile homes, and unsurprisingly it has been vibrantly opposed by the Manufactured Housing Institute on the grounds that it singles out one type of housing for its effects.

It’s a bill I’ve had my eye on for awhile since I have a well known and geographically based interest in weather radios. Being a New Orleanian, I am very big on the idea of emergency radio services. I have had to rely on them during many hurricanes, including Katrina. Factor in the detail that my wife is from Indiana, a state known for tornadoes, and my interest becomes self-explanatory.

According to the National Weather Service, tornadoes alone have killed 125 so far in 2008, a number not surpassed in a decade. Of those, 55 of them lived in mobile homes.

Via Doug Abrahms of the Pal-Item in Indiana:

Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., sponsored a House bill requiring weather radios in mobile homes after witnessing damage from a tornado with wind speeds of more than 136 mph that killed 25 people in 2005 in his home state. The House passed his bill last year by unanimous consent.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., introduced the Senate version of the bill in March, saying it would save lives. But the measure never got a hearing in the Senate banking committee, where Bayh is a member.

I must confess that I am not certain what I think of this. On the one hand, putting weather alert services into mobile homes as a standard has an almost certainty of reducing loss of life during extreme weather. For some people it may well be the only way that they would receive any warning at all. On the other hand, I am usually one who dislikes dictates of this nature. I guess I will have time to consider it since Ellsworth plans on reintroducing the legislation in the new year.

Photo courtesy of tlindenbaum, used under its Creative Commons license

Local Radio Freedom Act: The Battle Begins

March 6, 2008

Last December, bills that would impose new performance royalties on over-the-air broadcasters were introduced by Howard Berman (D-CA) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and by Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) in the U.S. Senate. For small broadcasters, this is a very big deal, one that in some cases could cause them to close up shop and quit the airwaves.

Fortunately, a bipartisan effort originating in Texas and introduced by State Representatives Gene Green (D-TX) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) has been brought to the floor to combat it. To date, 148 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have now stepped up to the plate to back the Local Radio Freedom Act.

The most often quoted portion of the resolution (House Concurrent Resolution 244 for those of you taking notes) reads, “Congress should not impose any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge relating to the public performance of sound recordings on a local radio station for broadcasting sound recordings over-the-air, or on any business for such public performance of sound recordings.”

The act was introduced the day after Alicia Keyes thanked radio for her success while accepting her Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Performance by saying, “I have to thank… every DJ, every radio guy, every promotions guy, everybody who ever put up a poster for me and spread the word.” Like most recording artists, she acknowledges the boost that free airplay of her music has provided for her career. As a matter of fact, it takes very little effort to unearth a variety of quotes to this effect, many of them made by artists but many more made by recording industry executives themselves.

“[R]adio remains the best way to get new music into the listeners’ lives.”
–Sony BMG Executive VP Butch Waugh as quoted in Radio & Records, January 11

“[R]adio is the conduit to the people, the voice of the format and the lifestyle’s soundtrack
-Sony BMG Nashville VP of Marketing Tom Baldrica, as quoted in Radio & Records, January 11

While the RIAA continues to push for ever increasing royalties on broadcast and on the Internet under the banner of protecting artists’ royalties, they continue to ignore the fact that the vast majority of recording artists owe their start and a lion’s share of their popularity to the free airplay that showcases them to the public. It is a safe bet that many artists would not have reached a high enough profile to be worried about royalties without the benefit of radio. This is supported by the vast number of artists who have stated how much they owe to the medium.

“Radio helped me a lot. That’s the audience. I can’t see them, but I know they’re there. I can’t reach out and touch them with my hand, but I know they’re there.”
— B.B. King, recording artist, 2002

A quick point-by-point synopsis of House Concurrent Resolution 244 :

  • Broadcast and Recording industries have existed in a symbiotic relationship for decades, to the benefit of both.
  • Congress has rejected calls for a performance fee for 80 years
  • Local radio provides free publicity in a variety of ways ranging from ticket giveaways and concert promotions to artist airplay.
  • Artist careers and sales of recordings have benefited massively from on-air play.
  • Millions of dollars worth of airtime are used for emergency services, sports, charitable causes and public affairs programming. This programming is in danger if revenues need to be diverted to pay new performance fees.
  • Economic hardship will not just be suffered by radio stations if the fees are enacted. They will affect live music venues, bars, restaurants, shopping centers and others.
  • Fees would not only be injurious to businesses, but ultimately to the American consumer as well.

It looks like the latest battle is soon to be joined. Contact your Congressman. If he or she already supports Resolution 244, say thanks. If not, tell him why he should. Do it for the sake of your small local stations and for up and coming artists everywhere!

Photo courtesy of Powi (ponanwi) used and remixed under this Creative Commons license