The 116th U.S. Congress and Democratic majority in the House of Representatives are barely two months old, yet special interest groups working against the interests of music creators are already up to their old tricks.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and its army of highly paid lobbyists are asking Members of Congress to cosponsor a bill that they have the nerve to call the Local Radio Freedom Act (LRFA). In past Congresses, many lawmakers have been deceived into cosponsoring this legislation, being told that it is a non-controversial sense-of-Congress resolution aimed at protecting local radio stations. In fact, it is an anti-creator, anti-property-rights bill.
LRFA seeks to perpetuate an anomaly in U.S. copyright law under which terrestrial broadcasters (AM/FM radio) are allowed to use creators’ music to sell highly-profitable advertising with zero compensation for the artists who created that music. There is no other music distribution platform that is allowed to get away without paying creators. There is no other country in the economically developed world that permits radio to abuse creators’ property rights this way.
In a situation unique to the United States among the world’s major countries, terrestrial radio stations have never paid royalties to record labels, artists and producers, although they do to songwriters and music publishers. A2IM CEO Richard James Burgess, formerly a music producer and head of Smithsonian Folkways Records, weighs in on that situation.
SoundExchange’s CEO says it’s time radio starts paying all music creators fairly for their work.
On Monday, a group of radio broadcasters penned a letter in support of the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) push for deregulation of the $14 billion radio industry. Their letter was based on the NAB’s petition to the FCC this past June, in which the NAB sought to allow expanded broadcaster ownership of radio stations (i.e., increased consolidation) throughout the country. The NAB’s justification: broadcasters must adjust their business model to the realities of the new streaming world.
As a representative of the many creative parties who help craft music, we are frequently on the opposite side of issues from the NAB. And while I can’t comment on NAB’s specific requests, I was delighted to find so much common ground in their FCC filing in June….
I agree with the NAB that the law should “finally adopt rules reflecting competitive reality in today’s audio marketplace” and should “level the playing field” for all entities in the music economy.
If radio truly wants to modernize, it can start by taking a giant leap into the 21st century and paying all music creators fairly for their work. Stop treating artists like 17th century indentured servants, just so radio can reap bigger profits. If radio wants to have rules that reflect the music industry of today, then that should apply across the board.
We should resolve this gaping unfairness to artists before we begin talking about allowing radio to consolidate even further.
Who can forget Zoe Lofgren, the Member from San Mateo (aka Google) who is currently the #3 most senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee? You may remember Ms. Lofgren’s scorched earth campaign against Maria Pallante, the former head of the Copyright Office who I think was the subject of a retaliatory termination by the Librarian of Congress. Lofgren’s campaign went absolutely nowhere and has been on the side of monopoly power emanating from Silicon Valley her entire career. Which company does she favor with unwavering loyalty?
You guessed it–the Leviathan of Mountain View, the multibillion dollar multinational monopolist, Lessig’s long-time benefactor and funder of a host of NGOs–Google. Google wants control of the House Judiciary Committee through their influence over Lofgren.
The current Ranking Member is Rep. John Conyers who has resigned his position as Ranking Member after harassment allegations and some allegations of misuse of funds to settle sexual harassment claims (which are coincidentally also surfacing or resurfacing about top Google executives like Andy Rubin, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and, of course, the notorious “serial womanizer” Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt). This leaves the Ranking Member seat open, although Rep. Jerry Nader is next in line in seniority, you know, like “Ranking Member” implies. Rep. Nadler has long been a staunch ally of the little guy, especially our legacy artists on pre-72 recordings that Google made it their mission to screw over through their price fixing cartel and Lofgren pals, the MIC Coalition.
This is nothing new, of course, as Lofgren has been measuring the curtains for a long time, way before the Conyers story came out. Lofgren didn’t make any friends in her attacks on Maria Pallante after the House overcame the Google smear operation that Lofgren led in the House and voted 378-48 in favor of taking away the Librarian of Congress’s power to appoint the next Register. (Even so, Google has been effective in stalling the Senate version of the bill despite Lofgren’s lopsided loss).
For recent historical reasons, the position of Ranking Member is not automatically filled by the most senior member of the applicable party. That position now requires a vote of the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, which Nadler will surely win when his acting position comes for a vote by his colleagues–but–the Member from Google reminded members of her caucus that she wanted the gig real bad in a November 29 letter:
“Whenever an official vacancy at the top Democratic position of the Judiciary Committee may occur in accordance with Caucus Rules, I will put my credentials forward for my colleagues’ consideration.
I am confident that, as a 23-year veteran of the Committee with nearly 9 years of prior staff service, I fully meet all the criteria for the position as outlined in Caucus Rule 21. That rule states that, in selecting a successor to a Ranking Member vacancy, the Democratic Caucus ‘shall consider all relevant factors, including merit, length of service on the committee and degree of commitment to the Democratic agenda, and the diversity of the Caucus,’ and that the top Committee position “need not necessarily follow seniority.”
Had Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., then well into his 80s, retired from Congress, Lofgren would have been well-positioned to claim the top-ranking seat on the Judiciary Committee. Yet he ran for re-election. Again. And again. And again.
He stayed so long that Lofgren’s brand of Silicon Valley politics is now past its expiration date, her once virtuous alliance with the forces of progress and innovation curdling into a protection racket for increasingly unpopular monopolies.
Conyers on Sunday announced he is stepping down as the top-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, launching a battle for his successor that has pitted two Democratic rivals — Lofgren and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. — against each other. On the one hand, his resignation comes in a politically fortuitous way for Lofgren, with Conyers felled not by age but by allegations of sexual harassment. The political logic of replacing him with a woman is obvious. But then there’s Google.
The race for committee chair threatens to become the first fight over monopoly politics after the rollout of House Democrats’ “Better Deal” platform for 2018, which was built on going after concentrated power, particularly in the tech sector. Elected to Congress in 1994, Lofgren represents San Jose and the Bay Area, and is far and away the most stalwart defender of big Silicon Valley firms among House Democrats.
“It certainly may raise questions to have someone from Silicon Valley in a position where one of the key responsibilities is to oversee the conduct of Silicon Valley,” said Jonathan Kanter, a prominent antitrust attorney.
The problem that The Intercept put their finger on is that very few–and I mean very, very few–in the Congressional leadership believes that the whole SOPA dustup was for real and was instead one of the worst cases of astroturf ever perpetrated against a legislative body and its shell shocked staff. Lofgren associated herself with that assault and has been heard to bring it up as a threat that sounds more hollow by the day.
What we have to realize though is that even if Rep. Nadler–who is one of the truest blue progressives in the Congress–gets the Ranking Member position, in my view Lofgren clearly has her marching orders and will not stop until she’s told to stand down. Her supporters clearly have a lot of cash to hand out and are feeling the consequences of the election which severely curtailed their influence in the Executive Branch. And one of the ways that members get influence is not only raising money for themselves, but having the ability to raise money for other members or their party.
Radio’s relationship with the music industry has changed dramatically in a few short years.
In its prime, radio was the dominant medium for music discovery – both new hits and back catalog. Today, radio exists in a sea of options and online alternatives for music enjoyment.
For many people, radio is no longer the primary source for listening to music. Indeed, radio’s most frequent listeners are 20% to 30% less valuable to the music industry (in terms of per capita expenditures) than less frequent listeners.
“RATHER THAN RESIST THE DIGITAL AGE, RADIO MUST EITHER RIDE THE DIGITAL WAVE OR HAVE IT CRASH ON TOP OF THEM.”
We urge radio to adapt to the new digital reality because the global music ecosystem is better off with a vibrant, innovative broadcast radio industry.
But time is running out for broadcasters to change the way they do business.