Radio Royalty Hardball

The move is underway to allow our great public servants – the men and women of Congress – to stand up proudly and squarely behind the artists and musicians who are being so woefully underpaid.

I'm going to throw up.

In other words, Congress may be looking to levy additional performance fees for radio – an industry without which there would be no record industry.

Never mind that radio is going through its own hard times right now. The labels don't care.

A Copyright office witness and some recording artists went before the Committee for the Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property, a subcommittee of the House Committee, Tuesday to warm up the tax talk. It’s the usual rhetoric: the poor artists are not being fairly compensated for their work so they are asking for more revenue.

They are challenging the current exemption from paying performance royalties that radio stations enjoy. Radio pays plenty of licensing fees, but in our entitled world, these artists, labels and others are making it official – they are biting the hand that feeds them.

The prospect of such fees when radio is hurting is a deal breaker. Unfortunately, the radio industry is going to have to take drastic measures to ward off this additional tax.

I like what the NAB is doing to help the Internet streamers so far. NAB’s current leadership apparently knows that what happens in Internet streaming doesn’t stay in Internet streaming.

Unfortunately, the old NAB didn’t think that way which is why in 1995 and 1998 Congress passed a performance royalty for satellite and Internet radio. I guess the NAB then thought it would hurt its “competitors” and not its constituents.

Now, onto drastic action – the kind the powerful NRA would take.

Not wielding rifles for public display (although that sounds intriguing). But tough action.

The do-nothing Congress that can’t deal with the Iraq war, safeguarding individual freedoms while warding off terrorism, immigration and other issues is about to consider doing something to help recording artists. It’s likely to be no more helpful than looking for Osama bin Laden’s terrorists in Iraq instead of Afghanistan.

So, consider this action plan:

1. Radio stations should go on the air and name the Congressmen who support or are considering support for such a tax. I like reach and frequency. Run a promo every hour. It’s more important than a lot of station business that makes it on the air. Name the Congressman who is backing this effort. Let's see how much they like it when they are inundated with irate callers.

2. Include the Congressman’s phone number in your hourly promos and email address and ask your listeners to take action. If a representative supports exempting radio from this ridiculous tax then run the promo to praise the Congressman.

3. Radio listeners presumably like radio and don’t want it to be affected by a station’s inability to pay additional fees so you are preaching to the converted. Now get them to drink the Kool-Aid.

4. It’s time for Internet streamers to help their terrestrial brethren because these taxing issues affect everyone. If the record labels get away with this, they will find new ways to impose further burdens on broadcasters.

5. Implicate the recording industry. Not the labels. Listeners don’t care about labels. This is about the artists. Name the artists that are greedy enough to threaten their partner, radio, over more taxes. Do not boycott artists who come out for the performance tax. That's childish and ineffective. Program the way you always do -- with the listener in mind.

I’ve been saying for a long time that terrestrial radio’s fate is tied to that of Internet radio. The record industry forces seeking further compensation are transparent.

They have failed their way into this mess and now they are targeting the industry that has helped them promote their product all these years.

The day may come when radio stations are forced to play only songs without royalty fees.

That day can’t come soon enough as the record labels, having killed off their own business, are now proposing assisted suicide. In other words, the labels will help kill radio, too.

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