I’ve linked to articles expressing outrage about the recent decision of the Copyright Royalty Board that threatens to shut down a wide swath of internet radio stations, including my own PostClassic Radio. Just so you know what the other side is saying, I print here a letter a friend sent me that he received from his musicians’ union. It’s a nice piece of propaganda, framing the CRB decision as being entirely motivated to make sure musicians (not corporations, of course) get paid their due. My own comments are bold-faced:
A recent pro-musician decision of the Copyright Royalty Board has sparked a lot of adverse press. Even worse, webcasters and broadcasters have instigated a “grass-roots” campaign urging music fans to complain to Congress about the decision. The purpose of this e-mail is to make sure that musicians are informed about the facts – and to ask you to send your own pro-musician message to your representatives in Washington!
The Background. The Copyright Act requires webcasters and broadcasters to pay royalties when they stream sound recordings on the internet. By law, 50% of the royalties for streaming go to performers. SoundExchange collects the royalties and pays 45% of them directly to individual featured performers. SoundExchange pays 5% (the share set by statute) to the AFM and AFTRA Fund for distribution to session musicians and vocalists. The remaining 50% goes to the sound recording copyright owner – which is usually a record label [interestingly soft-pedaled admission] but in some cases [!] is also the performer.
The Decision. The judges heard 48 days of testimony and reviewed thousands of pages of evidence about the webcasting business and about the businesses of performers and record labels. AFM Vice President Harold Bradley and member Cathy Fink testified about the creative work musicians do in the recording process, and about how important this new income stream is to musicians. President Tom Lee testified about the ways SoundExchange works for musicians. And then the judges carefully considered all they had heard – and got it right. They wrote a careful, 115-page decision that acknowledged the value of musicians’ creative work and the importance of fairly compensating us when businesses [“businesses” – there’s a loaded word that totally misrepresents most internet stations likely to be killed by the ruling] use our product. [“Our” product – whaddya mean “we,” paleface?]
The Webcaster Backlash. Although the webcasters and broadcasters presented a complex and detailed case to the judges – and although the hearing process is one that they asked Congress to create – some don’t like the result and are seeking a Congressional override. This makes no sense. What is worse is that large (and wealthy) webcasters like AOL and Yahoo are hiding behind a few [thousand] small webcasters who complain that as “small businesses,” they can’t afford to pay the royalties [or are making no income at all, doing it as a labor of love or mere means of exposure]. Webcasters made similar complaints the last time rates were set in 2002 – and since then, webcaster revenues overall have jumped from $50 million to $500 million per year. [Tenfold? I’d bet the number of webcasters has increased more than tenfold since 2002, so that’s a meaningless statistic.]
Performers Need to Be Paid for Use of Our Work. Most musicians need to patch together lots of income streams in order survive – including royalties for the use of our recordings. Please let Congress know how important this money is to musicians! Urge your representatives to resist the pressure to override the rates set by the CRB.
There follows a sample letter to be sent to one’s congressperson, hitting most of the same talking points. I think I need hardly point out that PostClassic Radio costs me about $300 a year to run, and that I derive no income from it at all. The composers I play are almost all greatly in need of exposure, and I’ve heard abundant anecdotal evidence of people buying CDs to get what they’ve heard on PostClassic Radio. Shut me down, price Live365 out of my affordable range, and a few hundred composers will suddenly not be heard on internet radio at all, and will get nothing – no exposure, no royalties, no CD sales. Becoming entirely commercial, internet radio will then be forced back into the same deadening lack of variety that radio has suffered in recent years.