Posts Tagged ‘RIAA’

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: 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

Kagan: Not A Choice The RIAA and MPAA Will Like

May 17, 2010

Everybody’s talking about Kagan. Elena Kagan, that is — President Obama’s new nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court. I have a feeling that the Recording Industry of America (RIAA) in particular will be paying attention due to her history on the subject of fair use, especially since this history includes the following (as reported by Eriq Gardner at The Hollywood Reporter):

Hollywood’s biggest worry about Kagan might be her philosophy on intellectual property matters. As dean of Harvard Law School from 2003 to 2009, she was instrumental in beefing up the school’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society by recruiting Lawrence Lessig and others who take a strongly liberal position on “fair use” in copyright disputes.

Most notably, during those years, Professor Charles Nesson at the Berkman Center represented accused file-sharer Joel Tenenbaum in the defense of a lawsuit by the RIAA. Professor Nesson led his cyberlaw class in alleging that “the RIAA is abusing law and the civil process” with excessive damage claims in piracy cases. It was Kagan herself who wrote a personal letter to the U.S. District Court to help certify the students.

That stance on fair use could be a distinct boon to the radio industry in the ongoing battle against the Performance Rights Act (PRA). Add in prior actions adversarial to the RIAA and you can see why they and their allies could well be nervous of her prospective position.

Ironically, the Obama administration later weighed in on the side of the RIAA in the case. But it was before Kagan was fully confirmed as U.S. Solicitor General. At the time, Professor Nesson expressed some doubts about whether Kagan would back the government’s amicus brief and also called her “enlightened” on these issues.

So, it is reasonable to have hope of her support if she makes it to the Supreme Court, especially in light of nearly a century of proven economic benefit shown to artists through free airplay. I would think the fair use argument stands on solid ground when that stance is taken.

Of course, her stance on other issues could complicate things for broadcasters, but I have not yet concluded my research in that regard. No matter what, it is worth carefully watching as she goes through the vetting process. If she does get the position, I would like to think that we would win back some ground.

Image: docsearls / CC BY-SA 2.0

Trae tha Truth: NO Airplay? I’m Suing!

May 7, 2010

If you are paying attention to the Performance Rights Act (PRA) as it winds through Congress, you are aware of the argument that free airplay is not of sufficient value to artists, hence the desire for more royalties.  I can talk all I want about how silly I find that argument, but it looks like the court system in Texas is about to address that for me.

There is a rap artist in Houston called Trae tha Truth, and he is currently launching a lawsuit against RadioOne because they have banned his music. The rationale is that by doing so, they are hurting his career. The Houston Chronicle‘s blog has particulars:

Trae (whose real name is Frasier Thompson III) and attorney Warren Fitzgerald, Jr. allege that 97.9 FM banned the rapper’s music after he was involved in an on-air altercation with Madd Hatta Morning Show DJ Nnete Inyangumia. During a 2009 radio interview, Trae says Inyangumia falsely accused him of inciting violence at a festival celebrating “Trae Day.” The rapper, whose real name is Frasier Thompson III, was honored July 24, 2008 by Mayor Bill White and the Houston City Council for his community work.

I’m not here to comment on the right or wrong of the situation. What I find noteworthy is the approach being taken.  This is a lawsuit based on loss of business and weakening of brand caused by a lack of free airplay, airplay that musicFIRST and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) consistently devalue in their lobbying for the Performance Rights Act. That sounds suspiciously to me as thought the free airplay might just have value, that it might just be essential to the artist.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Let’s hear from Trae’s record label itself. If the airplay has no value they should be quite unruffled by the situation:

Rap-A-Lot Records’ CEO James Prince weighed in on the ban, saying that it also affected his business decisions with regards to Trae’s music. “I had been excited about being involved with the next Trae album,” says Prince, “but with this ban taking place, not only in his home town, but likely also in the second best place for airplay, which is Dallas, it would be impossible to promote the album. This ban is sabotaging his career, because those cities are the foundation for breaking his records.”

Wow. “Impossible to promote the album.” Strong words, especially from a record company exec. Could it be that airplay does have some intrinsic worth? “Sabotaging his career,” sounds to me like a bit of an impact.

I’m very curious to see if any of the pro-PRA groups out there will make any comment on this, or if we will simply hear silence and crickets.

Image: traaf / CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Of Pigs and Pizza: RIAA Resorts to College Pranks

March 12, 2010

Time to check in on the debate surrounding the Performance Rights Act (PRA) once more. The absurdist presence of an 18-foot-long inflatable pig pretty much demands it for amusement value alone.

Last Wednesday, a group of five protesters inflated the aforementioned pig in front of the Dupont Circle offices of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). (Note: NAB sponsors the Radio2020 blog.) According to Kim Hart at The Hill,  the protest was organized by Radio Accountability Project, whose members include the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), SoundExchange, and the American Federation of Musicians. I must say, they did not do a very good job of organizing and motivating their supporters. Five people? I’ve been at more crowded board games.

So the big piggy was supposed to satirize the “piggyness” of radio. Subtle. As was their current advertising campaign which accuses radio of wanting a free handout, which is highly amusing when the industry stance has been simply one of preserving the established relationships.

Having watched a number of up-and-coming bands suffer massive travails at the hands of various labels, I was highly amused by the response my colleagues at the NAB had to the pig:

Broadcasters fought back today with their own gimmick– bringing out sausage pizza to the protesters.

“We’re suggesting they provide this food to the scores of exploited musicians who have had to sue their record label to recoup allegedly unpaid album royalties,” said NAB executive vice president Dennis Wharton.

I think the family of Jimi Hendrix would be a good place to start. Honestly, if you look outside the confines of the current debate, you will find a metric ton of stories out there about artists being taken advantage of by labels. You will also find little but glowing words for radio and how it has helped so many artists succeed. Simply on the basis of past record, there is little reason to trust the labels, especially as they are currently motivated by the fact that their business model is in the grip of  protracted deterioration that started with Napster.

While radio has been expanding onto Internet and mobile platforms (where it does pay additional fees), the recording industry has been suing college kids for hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to preserve an outmoded way of doing business.

Image: saechang/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

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

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