John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!?? I Smell the Blood of a Musician.

riaa_fatcat.jpgThe Recording Industry Association of America demands damages of $150,000 per song for file-sharing infringements, yet it pays the artists who create those songs pennies for their work. And now it wants to pay them even less.

The RIAA and its online counterpart, the Digital Media Association, have petitioned the Copyright Royalty Board to slash the so-called mechanical royalties paid to musicians and music publishers for digital downloads, subscription music services and ringtones. Seems the RIAA and DiMA feel they’ve suffered unfairly during the transition to digital distribution and they’d like artists to share in their misery.

The National Music Publishers’ Association, noting the favorable economies of digital distribution, asks for a royalty of 15 cents per track for permanent digital downloads. The RIAA argues that a royalty of approximately 5 cents to 5.5 cents per track is more reasonable. The DiMA–which represents Apple, Amazon and RealNetworks, among others–suggests cutting that royalty further still.

Find that astonishing? Just wait; it gets worse. For streaming music services, the NMPA proposes a rate of the greater of 12.5% of revenue, 27.5% of content costs, or a micro-penny calculation based on usage. The RIAA finds 0.58% of revenue more reasonable. And the DiMA says there really shouldn’t be any royalty at all. “Fundamentally, this fragile marketplace is showing signs of promise, but it cannot be saddled with additional, excessive costs,” the DiMA argues. “The board should be careful not to impose a royalty that kills the proverbial goose and deprives songwriters and publishers of their golden egg.”

An interesting choice of metaphor and one in which the DiMA and RIAA might easily figure as the giant at the top of the beanstalk:

Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!??
I smell the blood of a musician.
Be he ‘live, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

Grind his bones to make my bread, indeed.

Said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America: “Our opponents have to recognize that this rate-setting is not a matter of gamesmanship for songwriters, but rather one of survival. As I stated in my testimony, in response to a question from those seeking to cut the mechanical royalty rate in half and to denigrate the importance and contribution of professional songwriters to the music industry, ‘Yes, songs are plentiful, just as rocks are plentiful. But if you want diamonds, you are going to have to pay the miners a living wage.’ “


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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald