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July 29, 2009
Dionne Warwick versus the Cartel
I thought I had talked about the "Performance Rights Act" before - now called the Civil Rights for Musicians Act - before, but apparently not. You may recall that the act's sponsor, John Conyers, gained a moment of digital notoriety by publishing the Downing Street memos as samizdat that the official media wouldn't touch. Conyers' legislation is apparently attempting to close the rights loophole that radio enjoys.
Briefly: even though it's a pittance, artists do get some money from CD sales. Many of the digital download deals also funnel money back to artists. But when a musician's work is played on broadcast radio, no money goes back to the artist. Originally the theory was that the artist was 'compensated' in the form of exposure for his/her work, and radio producers and DJs chose things based on what audiences wanted or liked. Of course, there has always been pay-for-play (payola) of one form or another to influence radio playlists.
Conyers bill is an attempt to change this situation, instituting a set of fees for broadcast radio, along the lines of the fees that have been imposed on Web radio. One big difference: broadcast radio is extremely profitable, unlike Web radio. Satellite radio such as XM has made a splash but hasn't been able to back it up with solid financials. Sirius radio, for example, has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy for a while.
To no one's great surprise, the big radio parts of the Cartel (particularly Radio One, which owns 54 radio stations in the US) have been hitting back. And this is where it gets really nasty, with Cathy Hughes, the CEO of Radio One, pleading poverty and making accusations about the motives of some of the bill's supporters. Which in turn has led Ms. Warwick to hit back in an op-ed piece blogged on Huffington Post in which she raises the specter not only of Cartel greed, but of outright racism in Hughes' attacks
According to Warwick's column (and I confess I haven't read the bill), Conyer's Act would provide exemptions for the small and financially struggling radio stations while requiring large corporate radio to funnel at least a little money back to the artists. Sounds great - now why couldn't we get the same kind of Protection Act for Web radio?
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