Industry fights to get royalty bill passed

LET’S SAY THE “WE ARE ONE” concert became popular on radio as programmers responded to listener demand to add songs performed at the Lincoln Memorial to their playlists. Beyonce’s “America the Beautiful” and Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” suddenly become significant hits, but only one of those performers would receive a dime for his efforts. That would be Springsteen, and that’s what the music industry has been trying to change for years. The time may have finally arrived.

As the Obama administration comes into power and the 111th Congress is seated, the music industry’s top lobbying arms are unified in increasing their fight to get a performance royalty bill passed — one that would pay performers when their music goes out over the airwaves — and bring commercial radio in line with other broadcasters, Webcasters and international systems. It has been a long fight for the Recording Artists Coalition and the Recording Industry Assn. of America, both of which say the bill is their top priority.

“Broadcasters now stick out like a sore thumb,” said Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the RIAA. “Why should the platform in the greatest position to pay not do so when Pandora (the Web radio site) is doing the right thing? That point wasn’t evident 10 years ago. Webcasters, Sirius and XM were paying to reward the creative process, which makes radio look anomalistic.”

OLD LOGIC dictated that radio was a key link in getting music to consumers and its purpose was promotional, thereby limiting payments strictly to songwriters and not performers. That has changed, lobbyists argue, as radio has streamlined its playlists to the point that the musicians’ creations shape the identity of stations and radio airplay no longer is the key driver in music sales.

The best examples of this, to my mind, are classic rock and oldies stations, where playlists are nearly set in stone and vary little as one ventures from town to town. When a station promotes itself as the place to hear the Who, Led Zeppelin or the Temptations, shouldn’t the non-songwriting members of the bands receive remuneration?

“Currently, we’re aligned, which makes us a more powerful (voice),” said Daryl Friedman, the VP of Advocacy and Government Relations for the Recording Academy who has been given the task of running the Recording Artist Coalition, which the Academy took over last month.

The bill’s opponent, NAB, is sticking with the promotional argument and contending that additional payments for music will drive a good number of local broadcasters out of business. It can be easily argued that commercial radio has become stagnant and reliant on very short lists of performers and hits. When a heralded station such as the L.A. alternative rock outlet Indie 103.1 is converted to yet another regional Spanish-language format, one has to wonder if any commercial outlet can make a name for itself as a local, independent voice with playlists based on local interests. Losing a local voice such as Indie suggests NAB’s argument is diminished.

ONE OF TWO lobbyists registered for the Academy, Friedman is now the D.C. chief for music’s creative community. (RAC, which was founded by Don Henley and Sheryl Crow, did not have a lobbyist during its six years as an independent organization.) His slate of key issues that trail the performance royalty bill include cultural funding, technical issues, Internet neutrality and a tax provision that could affect advances as key issues in the coming year. It’s a different world at the RIAA, which reps the labels.

Demonized for suing consumers who had illegally obtained music on their computers, the org is entering a period of reintroduction now that the lawsuits have been curtailed. Bainwol’s top three issues after the radio bill are educating the new policy makers in Washington; talking to “anyone involved in the chain of commerce related to music” with the goal of developing new business models; and working with Internet service providers to “protect the integrity of the digital marketplace.”

“We are living in a time and in a year in which there are profound policy questions, very big issues that will demand patience on our part,” Bainwol said. “We’re not in a vacuum. We recognize that there is a lot going on. “

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