Ted Leibowitz, Program Director, Music Director, Tech Support Specialist, QA Engineer, Photographer, Copywriter, Copy Editor, Producer, Reporter, IT, Booker, Promoter, and Brewer (strong, strong coffee) of BAGeL Radio, has been one of the leading voices in the fight to save internet radio. After appearing in the New York Times, and San Francisco's ABC affiliate station, KGO-TV, Leibowitz took it upon himself to head to our nation's capitol to lobby for the Internet Radio Equality Act (HR 2060). On the morning of July 31, Leibowitz attended a hearing questioning levying a Copyright Royalty fee. We asked him to give us a count by count of the day. You can read it below, and be sure and check out the Save Net Radio and BAGeL Radio links below for more information.
Along with Rusty Hodge and Elise Nordling of SomaFM and Corey Denis of Reapandsow, I traveled to Washington DC this week to talk with members of Congress about saving independent internet radio from copyright royalty rate ruin. It has been a most educational visit. After meeting with members of Congress and staffers, their depth of knowledge on this issue has surprised and encouraged me. Their willingness to hear and sympathize with our perspective on the matter was also encouraging.
All that said; Congress does not want to be involved in this battle. They want to see a settlement reached between SoundExchange and webcasters. Congress knows that it's (a) not good at things like setting statutory rates, and (b) works way too deliberately to resolve the issue in a timely manner. SoundExchange has given Congress the impression that talks between the parties have been both ongoing and productive. From what we know, this is not the case, and those we spoke with expressed concern at that notion.
Meanwhile, we attended a House subcommittee hearing today on the new battle to extend the artist performance royalty to terrestrial radio, which has been exempted from this fee since the 1920's. This is potentially devastating news for over-the-air radio. SoundExchange (which is front for the widely-reviled RIAA, whom is a front for the mainly foreign-owned and also widely-reviled conglomerations that own the major record labels) showed up en masse under the guise of The musicFIRST Coalition, the group responsible for this push to get over-the-air radio stations to pay labels for the right to promote their artists for them.
The opening statements from the committee members made it clear that the broadcaster side of the debate would fall on deaf ears. Because musicFirst pretends to be all about artists (when it is really all about the labels who have been screwing artists and consumers alike for decades), even the committee members who professed to be friends of radio had seemingly already made up their minds before evidence or testimony for either side had been presented. Terrestrial radio will soon be paying a performance royalty every time a song airs. Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) indicated that he would be leading the charge for the royalty. Berman chairs the House Intellectual Property subcommittee and opened the proceedings with, "I've wanted to hold this hearing for a very long time, not only because of my constituents but because as a policy matter it is time for Congress to re-evaluate the limitations of the current performance right for sound recordings."
Less informed legislators on the committee asked misleading non-questions, pandered to celebrity witnesses, and repeated RIAA myths. The most persistent of these myths insists that in today's marketplace radio airplay provides questionable promotional benefit to artists and labels. When asked if she would rather have her songs played on the radio with no royalty compensation or not played at all, witness Judy "Send In The Clowns" Collins sidestepped the question. The most uninformed award went to representative Hank Johnson of Georgia, who spent his question time making rambling accusations. The most off-the-mark remarks were probably those of California representative Darrel "I spent millions of my own money to unseat a duly-elected official and install Arnold Schwarzenegger in his place" Issa, who twice went over his allotted time to rant that "HD radio is coming" and "deceased artists don't tour" and share other less-than-constructive statements.
Witness Sam "Soul Man" Moore brought up the topic of older artists who are struggling to make ends meet in their old age. Mr. Moore and others suggested that the radio stations who promoted these artist's records are to blame, and not perhaps the record labels who paid them pennies on the dollar (if that) for their hit records. Referencing the same misplaced blame, former recording artist and current legislator Paul Hodes of New Hampshire told of his experience meeting an African American artist who'd had a successful radio hit but who had been paid for his troubles only "$50 and a bottle of Scotch." To Mr. Hodes blame for the result of this exploitation by a record label and poor judgment (and/or desperation) of the recording artist was the fault of radio. Huh? What?
One of the few reasonable opinions given to dispel that myth came from Florida Republican Ric Keller who did his homework by calling a Program Director of a station in his district in Orlando. The PD told him that labels call him daily begging him to play their songs. Another came from San Jose representative Zoe Lofgren who set herself apart from the rest of the committee by not repeating a single RIAA talking point.
In the sky is not falling department, Mr. Berman included caveats regarding imposing this fee: "One is that by extending this right it does not diminish the rights and revenues of the creators of musical works and second, that terrestrial broadcasters, large and small, remain a viable source of music." The latter caveat might suggest that Mr. Berman disapproves of the crippling Copyright Royalty Board rate hike imposed on internet radio.
The only radio representative amongst the five witnesses was Radio Board Second Vice Chair Chester Warfield Jr. of ICBC Broadcast Holdings. Warfield held his own throughout sticking to the National Association of Broadcasters message that the system ain't broke, why fix it: "there is no justification for changing a system that has worked for the music industry as a whole for so many years. The United States has the most prolific and successful music industry that is the envy of the entire world. Upsetting the careful balance that Congress struck by imposing a performance tax on local radio broadcasters would be a shift of seismic proportions. For over 80 years, Congress has not seen fit to alter this mutually beneficial policy, and there is no reason to do so now."