14 February 2010


Like most of you, I listen to the radio while I'm driving.

Most of the time I listen to the local talk radio station on the AM dial, but when there is nothing on that I am interested in I will turn over to the FM music stations. That is how I found out about the proposed fees on recorded music being played over the airwaves.

House Resolution (H.R.) 848, the Performance Rights Act, seeks to force the payment of royalties for music played over the air. The thing about music played over the air is that artists used to pay kickbacks to the radio stations to play their music. This would get the songs out into the public's ears and compel them to buy the albums that their favorite tunes were recorded on.

My how times have changed!

A coalition of groups including the Recording Industry Association of America makes up an organization calling itself Music First. Music First, of course, is all for this legislation.

RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol says “This legislation is about fairness and a level playing field, plain and simple. The arguments for this legislation have never been more compelling, the time never more ripe, and the level of support within the music community never more strong.”

Music First Executive Director Jennifer Bendall adds “Radio is the only platform that does not pay a fair performance royalty to America’s artists and musicians.”

It sounds to me like Music First is a rather Orwellian term. They should call themselves Money First instead.

Perhaps these groups that make up Music First are not aware of the fact that most people hear new songs on the radio and then look for the same songs in the music stores or online. If the legislation passes, the radio stations will play a selected sample of the music that they have paid the royalties on and new artists and new works will not be played. Music that does not get played does not get sold.

That doesn't sound much like a level playing field, does it?

Opposing legislation, called the Local Radio Freedom Act (House Concurrent Resolution 49), has also been introduced. This bill urges Congress not to impose “any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge relating to the public performance of sound recordings on a local radio station... .”

My opinion is that both of these pieces of legislation need to be scrapped immediately and any effort to re-introduce them should be slapped down. This is something that should be worked out between the recording and broadcasting industries, and the government has no dog in this fight except to see that the agreements are enforced.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The broadcast industry has long been understood to fall under the provisions of speech and the press, and "shall make no law" is pretty clear. Of course I am no lawyer, and I am sure that there are plenty of slick talkers on either side that will talk rings around the First Amendment.

And that is the more important issue.

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