Posts Tagged ‘Local Radio Freedom Act’

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

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

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

Local Radio Freedom Act vs. Performance Rights Act

March 1, 2010

As the RIAA continues to push for the Performance Rights Act (PRA) as a way to bolster their failing business model, another act has been gaining steam in Congress: The Local Radio Freedom Act (LRFA).

As Reg Wydevan, a partner at Appleton-based law firm of McCarty Law LLP, notes in his column for the Appleton Post-Crescent, we’ve danced this dance before:

This is not the first time a performance tax has been considered. In both 1971 and 1976, a performance tax bill was introduced in Congress and refused, citing the important promotional value of free radio airplay. In 1995, a similar measure was shot down to avoid jeopardizing what Congress called “the mutually beneficial economic relationship between the recording and traditional broadcasting industries.”

So, once more we see this dead horse beaten by a music industry that is running scared due to the impact of file sharing and the transition of music purchasing on the Internet. The arguments have about as much weight now as they did back in ’71, especially when you consider that less than half of the money collected “for the artists” is designated to go to said artists.

As Radio Business Report tells us, more and more opposition is becoming evident at the Congressional level as well as within the ranks of artists:

The total number of US Representatives who are now signed onto the Local Radio Freedom Act, and who stand in opposition to the Performance Rights Act, has reached 256 with the addition of a quartet of Democrats. Meanwhile, Country group Lady Antebellum has joined the chorus of musicians who recognize the value of radio airplay.

The four latest co-sponsors are Reps. Travis Childers (D-MI), Mike McMahon (D-NY), Bill Owens (D-NY), and Mark Schauer (D-MI). While these four are all Democrats, it is well worth noting that the support for the LRFA is truly bi-partisan, composed Congress members from both sides of the aisle. While this is wonderful news, it needs to be noted that the LRFA is a non-binding resolution. This means that even with the majority support it has attained, it does not actually block the PRA.

That said, I’ve got to support the view espoused by Radio Business Report in an article about the National Black Church Initiative’s opposition to the PRA:

We don’t know if a floor vote is the best tactic or not, but we do know that the popularity of PRA in the House begins and seemingly ends in the Judiciary Committee. 256 House members have signed on to the Local Radio Freedom Act, which opposes PRA. That’s 38 more votes than necessary to stop the bill. And it’s not a Democrat v. Republican thing – LRFA has strong support within both parties.

So while things look pretty positive, we all still need to be vigilant. Contact your Representatives and encourage your friends to do the same. Encourage those in power to support the Local Radio Freedom Act and take a stand against the Performance Rights Act. It’s not a matter of supporting “corporate radio” as the PRA’s backers frame it, but rather of supporting radio in general.

The stations most in danger from this misguided legislation are the minority-owned and collegiate stations, the independents and small chains of stations.  Yes, it will hurt the big conglomerates as well, but they will not face the danger of extinction that stations with lesser resources will. Get involved and help save radio!

Image: mkeefe / CC BY 2.0

Royalty Bill’s Chances Fading

November 30, 2009

Washington Research Group Concept Capital‘s Paul Gallant says in a new report that chances of the Performance Rights Act passing have downgraded from a 60% likelihood to 40%. The Performance Rights Act would force radio stations to pay royalties for playing music on top of the usual array of song writer royalties that have always been paid.

This is good news, but one cannot help but look askance at it. After all, the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have both approved the legislation in recent months, and a meeting was held between broadcasters and record labels to discuss a possible compromise. Both of these occurrences would seem to denote victory rather than failure for the “performance tax”. So why do we have better odds now?

FMQB boils it down to a few simple statements:

[…] why the possibility is less likely, first saying that broadcasters are doing an effective job of building opposition to the legislation. The NAB has gotten 27 Senators and 253 House members to sign a resolution opposing the Performance Rights Act. Secondly, broadcasters have gotten traction with arguments that a new fee could have damaging consequences for a large number a radio stations – particularly in a difficult advertising environment – and that a disproportionate share of endangered stations are minority-owned.

But wait, there’s more. As RadioInk observes the political angles to all this have quite an impact on these odds as well:

Gallant also notes that members of Congress are “typically more sensitive to broadcasters’ policy agenda” as elections near, and points to the leadership of new NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith, who joined the organization officially late last month. Though he notes that Smith is restricted from lobbying directly for another year, Gallant writes, “We view his stature, bipartisan reputation, and skill set as a new and positive factor for broadcasters in the radio royalty battle.”

There, now that you see the basic reasoning, it makes perfect sense. But that does not mean we in the industry can rest on our laurels; the fight isn’t over yet! In the world of politics, there is always the chance of some surprise last-minute deal or maneuver by the opposition. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), the bill’s sponsors, continue to spare no efforts to pass this potentially damaging piece of legislation.

Then there is the Local Radio Freedom Act, which is also winding its way though the halls of government. It declares that “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”. This piece of legislation is gaining ground and needs your support, especially now that support for the PRA seems to be waning.

You can follow both bills online easily on Open Congress:

Image: billselak / CC BY-ND 2.0

Reps. Conaway and Green: Champions of Radio

November 6, 2009

conawayThere is a discussion of the Performance Rights Act (PRA) scheduled for November 17 on Capitol Hill.  Among the invited participants are National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) President/CEO Gordon Smith and Joint Board Chair/Commonwealth Broadcasting President/CEO Steve Newberry, as well as representatives of label-backed pro-royalties group musicFIRST.

Of course, there are two members of Congress not invited who would like to attend and add their own views to the mix: Reps. Mike Conaway (R-TX) (pictured) and Gene Green (D-TX). The two radio supporters  have penned a missive to  House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) asking to participate in the dialogue.

Here is an excerpt from that letter I found on RadioInk:

Green and Conaway write, “We are the lead sponsors of H. Con. Res. 49, the ‘Local Radio Freedom Act,’ a resolution supported by more than 250 of our House colleagues that opposes any new financial burdens on local radio broadcasters. We have serious concerns that legislation imposing a new royalty on local radio stations, particularly in this economic climate, will be tremendously harmful to radio stations and their employees, local communities that rely on radio, and recipients, such as charities and nonprofits, that receive free airtime for their causes.”

They go on to cite the inclusion of Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), a proponent of the new royalties, and other House members not currently on the judicial committee as a precedent for their inclusion. I’m sure that the recent Neilsen studies, showing that radio has a greater audience than the Internet, will add some fuel to the fire on both sides. The musicFIRST people will see an even bigger pot of gold to shoot for at the end of their legislative rainbow, while our side has more solid proof of the reach and value of airplay.

Just take a look at Business Insider‘s Chart of the Day for a great visual representation of the numbers from the study. For more depth, there is also an interview on Media Life with Lorraine Hadfield, managing director of global radio measurement at The Nielsen Company, about “why radio remains ubiquitous, why listening is higher at work than at home, and why not everyone has an iPod.”

With newly verified data showing radio to reach 77%  of adult listeners (64% for the Internet), we have a clear illustration of how pervasive radio is. Our medium continues to hold the crown as the number one discovery mechanism for music, something the labels are well aware of.

Image: Mike Conaway / Public Domain: Govt.

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.

Senator Barrasso: Radio Booster

September 30, 2009

225px-Sen._John_Barrasso_Official_Portrait_7.17.07One of the chief sponsors of the Local Radio Freedom Act, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), was a surprise guest at Friday’s Radio Luncheon at the Philadelphia National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Radio Show. His pledge to fight the RIAA’s push for collecting royalties from broadcast radio was greeted with excitement by the crowd according to all reports.

The former orthopedic surgeon joined Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) in introducing S. Con. Res. 14 in this session of Congress. This is the Senate counterpart to H.R. 848 in the House of Representatives, both entitled the Local Radio Freedom Act. The  resolution now has 23 co-sponsors, bringing the total supporter count to 25. While encouraging, these numbers are far from the majority support that the Local Radio Freedom Act enjoys in the House.

Radio Business Report shares some of the quotes from that day:

“Radio does so many wonderful things in our communities,” said Sen. Barrasso. And he doesn’t want to see that diminished by a new financial burden for local broadcasters.

“I’m going to continue to fight to ensure that your voices are heard,” he vowed, to great applause and a standing ovation.

Barrasso began, by the way, with a tip of the hat to a former colleague, the new President and CEO of the NAB, sitting a few feet from the podium. Barrasso said it had been a loss to no longer have Gordon Smith in the Senate, but that he is “a great gain for the NAB.”

While the first reaction is elation, we must be vigilant; the battle is far from over. Right now, as observed by the Radio Business Report, supporters of the proposed royalty structure are scanning incoming bills looking for that piece of must-pass legislation that they can try to tack performance royalties onto. Then it is simply a matter of eroding the broadcaster support for the Local Radio Freedom Act in the face of a perceived larger issue. Students of government will hardly be surprised by this approach; it happens frequently in our nation’s capitol.

So the news is good, but we are not out of the woods as yet. Keep contacting your local senators; they need to have it firmly impressed upon them just what is at stake here!

The United States Congress image above is in the public domain.

Growing Opposition to the Performance Rights Act

July 27, 2009

skullguitarPolitics, especially in recent years, is a pervasive and contentious subject. Much like the relationship between broadcasters and record labels, the people on both sides of the divide are passionate and highly vocal. As the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) sponsored Performance Rights Act winds its way through Capitol Hill, we see these two contentious subjects merge with the energy of a meteor striking the Earth.

That said, I would like to extend my thanks to Representatives Bobby Rush (D-IL), John Adler (D-NJ), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Senators Susan Collins (ME), Thad Cochran (MS), and Johnny Isakson (GA) for joining the growing opposition to this attempt to inflict a new royalty structure on broadcasters. Their support for the Local Radio Freedom Act, which opposes the imposition of new royalty fees on broadcasters, is massively appreciated!

If you’ve missed the ongoing brouhaha, The Performance Rights Act aims to add royalty fees to the expenses that radio stations must meet. The rationale is that the performer of a song is entitled to compensation in the same way as the songwriter. On the surface, this seems to be an equitable approach, at least until you start to dig and discover that half of this money is going straight into record company coffers as opposed to the artists it purports to assist. The fact that those coffers are predominantly overseas is an economic factor that should give people pause.

The fact that 244 members of the House of Representatives and 23 Senators are now on record opposing this legislation is a positive sign, and the fact that support seems to be steadily growing is heartening.

Radio Online brings us a statement from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), who also sponsor this blog:

“Liberals, moderates and conservatives are uniting in opposition to RIAA’s effort to line the coffers of foreign record labels at the expense of America’s free and local radio stations,” said NAB Executive VP Dennis Wharton. “We salute these members of Congress for recognizing the unique role played by radio broadcasters in communities across the country.”

Now, one of the reasons I was brought on as a blogger here is that I am not the typical “corporate shill.” I’ve worked with underground art and music, community radio, college radio, and music production among other aspects of the industry and I have a personal passion for the medium and for new technology. I want that clear because I do not want to be mistaken in my position.

Throughout my experience, I have always heard nothing but praise for radio from the artists. Working with up-and-coming bands of all genres (rock, punk, folk, bluegrass, etc.), the one common thread has always been, “How can I get my music on the radio?” When working with international artists, the subject of radio always was greeted with jovial thanks for the role it played in making their careers. (When the record labels came up in conversation, however, the tone would usually take a turn for the highly acrimonious.)

Yes, artists should get paid. I’ve done activist work in the past on that subject. However, how different would the broadcast landscape be if they had to pay for the promotion airplay provides?  The fact that you can find innumerable examples of labels trying to illegally purchase airplay over the history of the medium (Google Payola) shows that they are aware of the incredible impact that radio play has on the success of their artists.

For an up-and-coming artist, the royalties proposed have potential to keep them off the airwaves as stations become less likely to spend money to play unproven acts. Rather than supporting creativity as it purports to, this legislation will create a barrier to entry for non-established performers.

Write to your Representatives and Senators and tell them to oppose this transparent effort by the record labels to finance their failing business model. If it does pass, I would suggest that the labels get charged for airplay; after all, it does provide a multimillion dollar a year service for them.

Photo: uzvards / CC BY-SA 2.0

George Strait Bucks “Performance Tax”

April 15, 2009

straitCountry and western superstar George Strait joined numerous other voices from the talent end of the music business in speaking up about the importance of radio. As the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) continues to pursue legislation demanding an unprecedented performance tax on songs played over the air, more musicians are stepping to the fore in support of free radio over their own recording labels.

Free airplay has been responsible for establishing the careers of musicians in every genre conceivable. Its impact on the careers of artists ranging from The Rolling Stones to Outkast is huge, and competition for play on the airwaves immense.

Radio industry trade publication, Radio Online, carries this report about an interview country music star George Strait conducted with Radio & Records magazine:

“You can’t take being played on the radio for granted,” Strait said. “There are only so many spots and many great singers out there wanting one. It’s a jungle out there.”

Commenting on Strait’s statement, NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton said, “George Strait is the latest in a long line of recording artists who can’t thank radio enough for helping sell records. The straight truth is this: the record labels’ proposed performance tax would cause economic harm to local radio stations across America, resulting in less music and fewer artists being exposed to listeners.”

Much as we are seeing with the royalty fees being enacted on webcasting, many smaller stations will have to curtail or cease operation due to the added expense of a performance tax.

It’s important for musicians who have experienced the power of radio as a career builder to speak out. It’s also important for all of you reading this to support the Local Radio Freedom Act which opposes the RIAA’s proposed new fees.

Photo courtesy of cliff1066, used under its Creative Commons license