CRB Royalties: An Unsound Exchange

SoundExchange, the record industry body that collects royalty fees, now wants Internet streamers to trade a lower license fee (or no fee for small webcasters who qualify) and a cap on minimum fees of $50,000 per 100 channels in exchange for full compliance and paying legally.

SoundExchange's Executive Director John Simson told Radio & Internet's Kurt Hanson in a recent interview, "Our biggest desire is to have people paying legally and being compliant".

Sounds harmless enough, right? But it's a bad deal for Internet streamers -- a sorry exchange.

Just when Congress seems to be waking up to what an explosive issue unfairly taxing America's music online is Simson comes off like Tinker Bell.

Quote: "Look, Monday's not that magical a day. It's going to be business as usual at SoundExchange -- trying to process data, trying to get deals done. We're not gonna be filing lawsuits".

Excuse me!

Have we been shaking in our boots for nothing. Have Internet streamers been unduly concerned about their great friend SoundExchange. Or is it something else.

I'm hear to tell you it's something else.

I can't tell you how many streamers have reacted to the stay of execution with emotions from euphoria to just plain relief. No one I know has expressed possible suspicious motives.

Let's examine Simson's comments:

"Look Monday's not that magical a day".

What a curious choice of words. I don't know anyone -- no one -- who ever referred to Monday as magical even in jest. Get the feeling he's playing with us.

Bully. Bully.

"It's going to be business as usual at SoundExchange -- trying to process data, trying to get deals done".

Damn -- I guess every one of us got excited for nothing. Yeah, business as usual to you collecting the paltry fees you collect when you could be collecting a treasure trove of money by fairly and equally taxing this pioneering new medium as it gets off its feet and grows.

"We're not gonna be filing lawsuits".

Well, as Gomer Pyle used to say, "Golly" (pronounced Gol-lee). You mean you scared the crap out of an entire industry for no reason. Are you saying to us, "never mind"?

How stupid do you think we are?

Here's how I see it.

With Congress considering a 60-day cooling off period during which negotiations would presumably be mandated, SoundExchange sounds like Internet radio's new best friend.

Not a ferocious pit bull.

A lovable puppy.

All of a sudden the Monday deadline isn't the be all and end all to SoundExchange. Will someone please get them to answer why they waited until a few days before the July 15th deadline to be so conciliatory, understanding -- and shucks -- all around nice guys.

Can you feel a screwing coming?

Are we to believe that all of the sudden SoundExchange's hardball has been replaced with Mister Roger's Neighborhood? Won't you be my neighbor?

I'm from New Jersey. I'm not buying it.

What's happened is that even as disorganized as Internet streamers are -- their passion and concern is being heard by members of Congress. Yes, there's Iraq and immigration but do these duly elected officials dare to want to mess with the Internet. I think you're seeing their answer.

They don't want to get involved in a legislative fix -- but don't take it personally. We're spending untold billions in Iraq and spilling American and Iraqi blood -- and they don't want to fix that, either. It's just Congress being Congress.

Here's what I recommend:

1. Negotiate hard and tough as if you had every advantage -- not as a loosely knit group of poorly funded small business people.

2. Negotiate for as long as all the parties want. I hate the instability but I dislike short term agreements that we'll regret okaying in just a few short years.

3. Bombard every congressman and senator with calls and emails every day. March, protest, complain, enlist other powerful allies (back home in their states and districts). Maybe SoundExchange thinks of this as a truce but only a fool would negotiate like it. This is a fight for survival in the future more than wiggling away from the next rate increase now. Use your streams and use the Internet to name names and give contact numbers.

4. Don't settle for any agreement that doesn't have long term stability -- a long term deal. Remember in three to five years the record industry isn't coming back. They won't be selling more CDs and they likely won't make a boom business out of selling 99 cent downloads. Oh, and piracy will continue to increase because the record labels don't get what they're doing wrong.

5. Since SoundExchange and their Infinite One -- the record labels -- will be facing a sustained decreasing revenue stream in the next three to five years, warn our friends in terrestrial and satellite radio. (They may not know they are our friends yet, but we can always school them, right?). Terrestrial radio is next and will be hit with an attempt to get performance fees added on to their existing music rights payments.

6. Organize a summit of terrestrial, satellite and Internet streams. Get Kurt Hanson involved. I'd love to be involved. There are many others. We must speak as one going forward. Radio will know the value of unity when the labels come after them next -- which they will do. Mark my words.

No exchange that involves murdering Internet streamers less in return for convincing Internet radio to commit suicide on their own.

That's unsound.

While the greedy record labels don't know it -- the Internet and their streamers are their future. Only a fool would blow up their own future.

And we all know that the record labels would never live in a place called denial.

Would never shoot themselves in the foot.

Would never turn on the people that helped them make obscene profits all these years.

Would never be the only industry that could not see and seek money in the Internet through arrangements that help their partners help them. (Think Google here).

And I wouldn't call the record labels fools (wink, wink).

Let's not be like them.

Fight for fairness.

Fight for stability.

Fight for a fighting chance.

As Alice Cooper says in "No More Mister Nice Guy":
"I used to be such a sweet, sweet thing
Until they got a hold of me...
No more mister nice guy"
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