Posts Tagged ‘S 379’

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


Performance Rights Act Gets Support From White House

April 5, 2010

At first I had hopes because of the date, April 1, that this was a prank. Unfortunately, in the clear light of the following day it is indeed legitimate. What I’m referring to is the letter from the Commerce Department’s general counsel expressing White House support for the Performance Rights Act (PRA). Not cheerful news for stations, although the battle is not lost yet.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), our sponsors, responded in short order with this statement made by EVP Dennis Wharton (text from AllRadioNews):

“NAB was aware this letter was coming, which is a position taken previously by the Bush Commerce Department. We’re disappointed the Commerce Department would embrace legislation that would kill jobs in the U.S. and send hundreds of millions of dollars to foreign record labels that have historically exploited artists whose careers were nurtured by American radio stations. The good news is that 260 members of the House of Representatives and 27 U.S. Senators are standing with hometown radio stations and against the RIAA.”

While this represents a setback, it does not mean our cause is lost. The news that those in favor represent a rare bipartisan coalition in Congress is balanced out by the fact that those against are also a completely bipartisan group. This issue is not a simple in which party loyalties factor, oddly enough.

I really think the best argument against this legislation is a simple look at the history of radio payola, an opinion shared by Nate Anderson at Ars Technica:

[…] the NAB (correctly) points out that it has been the broadcasters who repeatedly engaged in “payola” over the years; not only has radio paid nothing to the recording industry, but the industry has gone to the trouble of paying extra to radio, just for the privilege of promoting particular songs.

Just for the record, I do agree that all broadcasters should be paying the same royalties regardless of delivery mechanism. In my opinion, that means webcasters and satellite should be paying royalties structured like radio enjoys now rather than increasing radio’s burden to match theirs.

Image: stevegarfieldCC 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

Keeping Radio Free: The Online Movement

June 23, 2009


“The recording industry is a dirty business – always has been, probably always will be. I don’t think you could find a recording artist who has made more than two albums that would say anything good about his or her record company.”
Don Henley, The Eagles

“That was the big thing when I was growing up, singing on the radio. The extent of my dream was to sing on the radio station in Memphis. Even when I got out of the Air Force in 1954, I came right back to Memphis and started knocking on doors at the radio station.
– Johnny Cash

Approximately 124,00 Americans are employed in the radio industry. Innumerable artists have had their careers launched on the airwaves. Since the early 1900s, radio has been a mainstay for musicians, a pulpit that has allowed them to reach the ears 0f people around the world. It has almost universally been the first major step towards fame and fortune for those performers able to get the airplay.

“It was amazing to me that, all of a sudden, I was hearing my music on the radio and coming out of cars.
– Lenny Kravitz

The auditory experience speaks to people on a level vastly different from the one that other media touch upon. In the fertile ground of the human imagination it can take root providing entertainment, inspiration, and information all wrapped up in an aural package.

“TV gives everyone an image, but radio gives birth to a million images in a million brains.
– Peggy Noonan

“I started playing ukulele first for 2 years from age 9 to 11 and got my first guitar and got inspired by blues I heard on the radio that turned me on and I started learning myself.
– Johnny Winter

Now we are seeing radio under economic fire on Capitol Hill as the Performance Rights Act (S. 379 & H.R. 848) lumbers its way through the legislative process. In response, there have been many efforts made to combat this proposed act due to the deleterious effect it would have on smaller stations and minority broadcasters, among other reasons. Today, I’d like to point out two online resources for information and activism on behalf of the radio industry.

First there is, which has a petition online as well as search tools for getting the contact info of your Senator and Representative. With 231 members of the House publicly opposed to the legislation, this is a vitally important tool. All of us — DJs, listeners, programmers, anyone who loves radio — need to step up and let our leaders know that we support radio.

There is also the Free Radio Alliance which is really leveraging the social media in their efforts as well as providing numerous resources, information and a nicely developed Action Center. Go join up; I just did! You can also check them out on  on Facebook, , Twitter, and Linked In.

Then there is the site put up by the NAB:  No Performance Tax Dot Org. Not only another great source of news and resources, but also host to a wide variety of broadcaster-oriented tools and info including downloadable radio spots and a Performance Tax Public File Form to help stations remain compliant while engaging in advocacy in this issue.

Recent months have truly shown the power of the online campaign. Just take a look at the analyses of the recent presidential election for one of the best examples. Social media and the Internet offer an unprecedented avenue for people when organizing around issues such as this one. Get out there and make your voices heard, be it on blogs like this one, in Facebook groups, or any other platform. It can work!

I’d like to close today with two quotes from the Distinguished Opposition at the Recording Industry of America.

“If a song’s not on the radio, it’ll never sell.”
– Mark Wright, Senior Vice President, MCA Records

“It is clearly the number one way that we’re getting our music exposed. Nothing else affects retail sales the way terrestrial radio does.”
– Tom Biery, Senior Vice President for Promotion, Warner Bros. Records

Photo courtesy of Antigne78, used under its Creative Commons license

Minority Broadcasters, Civil Rights Groups Oppose Performance Tax

May 29, 2009

leahyThe ongoing battle against the Performance Rights Act is really heating up. A coalition of Broadcasters and civil rights leaders penned a joint letter to United States Senate Judiciary Committee Chair, Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

Radio Ink quotes the letter as saying:

“Minority and women-owned radio stations speak directly to our communities and are a cherished resource that must be nurtured and protected. Therefore, we respectfully urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to ensure proper due process by conducting a thoughtful public hearing on the likely consequences this legislation would have on minority and female radio broadcast ownership and service to minority communities before any official committee action is taken on this legislation.”

[…] “Should the court strike down Section 5 of the Voting Right Act — the Justice Department’s main enforcement tool against discriminatory changes affecting elections — the chief remaining resource to ensure that minority communities can participate fully in the democratic process will be the continued engagement of minority radio broadcasters to drive turnout. However, passage of S. 379 would eviscerate this remaining, powerful resource. Minority communities will be ignored by elected officials, advances in civil rights progress will be rolled back, and future gains will be uncertain at best.”

As someone with a bit of community radio in my background, I am well familiar with the medium’s reach when it comes to trying to get voters to the polls. I’ve seen it on the commercial level in mainstream radio as well. Rock The Vote anyone? Bueller?

Radio is part of community, and helping keep that community informed and engaged is a vital part of its purpose. As women-owned, African American, and Hispanic stations mobilize, we need to remind ourselves why this is important. The social implications as well as the economic ones should give pause to any supporter of the Act if they really look at the entire picture.

The issue is quite divisive. Strange bedfellows abound and allies are at odds in Congress over the issue. Radio Business Report comments on this as well in their exploration of the legislation authored by U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI):

It was almost surreal to see civil rights crusaders pitted against each other, as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) became the chief critic of Conyers’ legislation and aligned herself with, of all people, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA).

Let us hope the mobilization continues. The Performance Rights Act has overcome one hurdle, but there are still opportunities to stop it before it becomes law. Check out for more info!

Photo courtesy of joebeone, used under its Creative Commons license

Opposition Mounts to “Performance Tax”

May 4, 2009


It is no secret that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is on the warpath against radio, the medium that has driven more sales for them than any other. After over eight decades of radio promoting music for free, the RIAA is seeking to enhance their diminishing bottom line by creating a new revenue stream in a way that will injure radio, particularly minority and niche stations.

In my time, I have been a radio DJ and an independent music promoter in one of the most musical cities on the planet: New Orleans, Louisiana. I have had the pleasure of working with high profile artists like James Brown and Herbie Hancock as well as up and coming groups like Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes. One common thread in my interactions with all of these artists has been that airplay is massively important to them. Without the distribution channel provided by radio, audiences would have a vanishingly small chance of running across their work, much less becoming “true fans” who consistently purchase their music.

HR 848, The Performance Rights Tax, has potential to cause palpable harm to stations, particularly the smaller and independent ones. The disturbing thing is that a solid 50% of the revenue generated will go directly to the labels as opposed to the musicians the RIAA purports to serve. Facts like this are understandably glossed over in the RIAA’s quest to have this tax enacted.

In the interest of providing the facts of the matter, our colleagues at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have launched, a website devoted to providing information and resources about this struggle. Resources include video of the Congressional testimony of Steven Newberry and Larry Patrick before the U.S. House of Representatives; great public-service audio spots against the tax; ads and link buttons you can put on web sites or in printed publications.

If HR 848 gets passed, we will see a major curtailing of radio offerings across the board. The tax is being vigorously opposed by religious and minority groups, including the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters and the Spanish Broadcasting Association. This tax would likely force many small market stations to close, reducing local content and weakening the emergency broadcast system. That last one fills me with dread; as a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, I have a very personal view of radio’s essential nature during time of disaster. It’s a view that is shared by many people across the country who have suffered floods, tornados, wildfires, or the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Go check out and join the battle to keep the airwaves vibrant and alive. Oppose the tax on local radio — the next generation of talent will thank you!

Photo courtesy of the Rick Harris, usd under its Creative Commons license