Diary

The "Pay for Play" scandal nobody's talking about

People paying attention to copyright law may remember some noise in The Hill in mid-late 2007 about imposing performance fees on terrestrial radio stations.  At the time, it didn’t really go anywhere, so the idea managed to stay out of the public eye.  But it wasn’t gone.

In February of this year, with next to no fanfair or coverage, this so-called “Performance Rights Act” was reincarnated as H.R. 848 and S. 379 and began making the rounds in both houses of Congress.  I posted on this item, from the perspective of a local broadcaster, at my local blog, SLC Republitarian:

Though the proponants of the bill claim money taken through these fees will go to artists, the reality is that very few newer artists actually own the copyrights to their songs. The biggest group of artists to benefit from these bills will, in fact, be those with enough clout to own their own copyrights — most of whom are already filthy rich. The main copyright holders in this industry are, in fact, record labels. And, of those new artists who do own their own copyrights, such a fee would actually be a detriment — if broadcasters have to pay for the “privelidge” of promoting these bands and songs on air, we’re certainly not very likely to waste that time on untried artists.

So what these bills will actually do is keep money in the hands of the rich, by taking it out of the pockets of radio broadcasters, including small, local and independent stations. In other words, we would be looking at a situation where large corporations prosper at the expense of small business — by federal law. And let’s face it, local radio is already in some trouble. Year after year it becomes harder for independent stations to compete with large corporate entities like Citadel or Radio 1. Under a free market system, these smaller stations find ways to keep operating. They make cuts where necessary, they gain favor of local businesses… and those that don’t exactly thrive are at least surviving. These bills would be inconvenient for corporate radio. They could very well spell the end for many smaller stations.

But, the arguement goes, don’t these artists and copyright holders deserve to be paid? After all, the songwriters are being paid by the stations, so why not the other copyright owners? Well, because, put simply, artists and record companies are being paid because of what the stations do. They are paid in sales. Songwriters, many of whom do not enjoy the noteriety of recording artists, don’t get concert receipts, or promotion deals. They get paid primarily through the airplay and performance of their songs. Recording artists, on the other hand, get paid for showing up and smiling at the camera. These “other” copyright holders get paid through merchandise and other things. All of which is made possible by the songwriters, but are peripheral to specific songs. And, of course, you have the fact that many artists write their own songs, which means they are already paid for them through the current system.

But back to the value of radio to the industry, for a minute. As I said above, in a sense, these other copyright holders are indeed paid by radio stations, through free publicity. It’s true, a radio station benefits financially through playing these songs. I would argue, artists and record companies benefit even more. In fact, as a broadcaster, allow me this moment to address the artists and companies pushing for this legislation:

We give you free publicity. We do interviews with you, and specials about your upcoming releases. If it wasn’t for radio, nobody would care who you are — and they certainly wouldn’t pay obscene amounts of their hard-earned cash for your concert tickets and CDs. You would be a random name on a random CD cover (if you were lucky) that might sell a few thousand copies. You are rich because we play your music. Playing your music gets the public interested in your CDs, and in your concert tickets. That gigantic house? The limos and car collections? The throngs of screaming fans? Yeah. We did that. You’re welcome.

But, here, the point I want to make is this: why is the government involved at all?  Here we have a symbiotic relationship between private entities.  It is not for the govenrmnet to decide who should get paid for what, how much they should get paid, and who should do the paying.  That isn’t the free market, and it’s not how the industry runs.

The problem, as I see it, is that a few people in the recording industry got together and decided that if they simply tried to impose these fees on radio stations, those stations would simply work with the companies that didn’t charge them.  The only way to maintain equal airplay, and still get what they wanted, then, was to socialize the system.

Let’s be clear.  This isn’t about rights.  It isn’t about bettering the system.  It’s about money.

People may find it ironic that the Democrats — that “party of the working man,” which cries constantly about the “rich getting richer while the poor get poorer” — are in fact legislating the “rich getting richer” and in many cases forcing the “poor to get poorer.”  I, actually, do not find this ironic, because I’ve never been suckered by the pretty words uttered by liberals.

All in all, this is just another attempt by liberals to expand federal powers (and, some have suggested, to reward certain members of the music industry for their votes).  It shouldn’t be surprising, but it should be stopped.

Noperformancetax.org has more on this subject, as well as the Congressional and Senatorial resolutions against such legislation.  Call your congresscritters, and be sure to thank those who have already signed on to these resolutions.  Don’t allow them to destroy small business in favor of Big Production.