Sunday, April 4, 2010

Obama admin: time to make radio pay for its music; Ars Technica, 4/2/10

Nate Anderson, Ars Technica; Obama admin: time to make radio pay for its music:

"The recording industry scored a significant victory today with news that the Obama administration will provide its "strong support" for the Performance Rights Act. The bill would force over-the-air radio stations to start coughing up cash for the music they play; right now, the stations pay songwriters, but not the actual recording artists.

This has been a dream of the recording industry for decades, but it has taken on new importance as the revenues from recorded music have plummeted over the last decade. The broadcasters refer to the idea as a new "tax" that will largely benefit foreign record companies such as Universal (France), Sony (Japan), and EMI (UK).

Taking sides

Today, a letter from the Commerce Department's general counsel, Cameron Kerry, makes clear which side has the administration's support: the recording industry. (We double-checked with Kerry's office; this is no April Fools' joke.)

"The Department has long endorsed amending the US copyright law to provide for an exclusive right of public performance of sound recordings," says the letter. It pledges "strong support" for the current bill and approves the idea that radio's payment exemption is nothing more than "an historical anomaly that does not have a strong policy justification."

A copy of the letter was sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the letter, Kerry says that making radio pay for music is really a matter of fairness—not just to artists, but to Internet webcasters and satellite radio, too.

That's because both webcasters and the satellite radio folks currently do have to pay a public performance right on the music they play; the exclusion granted to over-the-air broadcasters thus distorts the market and makes it difficult for new technologies to gain traction. "It would also provide a level playing field for all broadcasters to compete in the current environment of rapid technological change, including the Internet, satellite, and terrestrial broadcasters," says the letter.

In addition to rationalizing the performance rights scheme in the US, Commerce points out that the US is the only major industrialized country to have such an exemption for over-the-air radio. Making a change isn't just a case of bowing to peer pressure; real money is at stake, since many artists are unable to collect the public performance money due them in other countries because of "the lack of reciprocal protection under US copyright law.""