What's Next? Marching Bands?

Published on May 22, 2007
by John Paczkowski

riaa_toiletpaper_1.jpgIt’s criminal. Anyone at any time can simply turn on a radio and hear a copyrighted song. Making matters worse, these radio stations often play the best, catchiest song off the album over and over until people get sick of it. Where is the incentive for people to go out and buy the album?”

RIAA President Hilary Rosen as channeled by the Onion, circa 2002

Why on Earth would the Recording Industry Association of America do anything to prevent us from listening to music, when it’s in the business of selling it? That’s a question at the top of mind today, now that the RIAA is pressing Congress to repeal a federal law that exempts broadcast radio stations from paying performance royalties to its member labels. While composers and publishers have long collected royalties from radio stations who play their songs, record labels and performers have not, because of the recognized promotional value of radio airplay.

“Terrestrial radio could not exist without the music provided by the record labels,” the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation explained in a recent report. “However, they have managed to avoid paying royalty fees for sound recordings. On the other hand, the record labels depend on terrestrial radio to create hits, promote their music and drive music sales. If copyright owners could establish separate royalty fees for each sound recording, some copyright owners would actually allow radio stations to broadcast their music for free, and some would even pay the radio station. Getting your music played on the radio provides a huge boost for an artist.”

It certainly does. Remember, there was a time when record labels paid broadcasters to play their songs. They even coined a word for the practice: payola. But apparently, the recording industry’s institutional memory is about as solid as its crumbling business model, because it’s trying to kill the broadcast exemption. If it succeeds, it stands to collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in new royalties–which will more than cover the $12.5 million settlement it agreed to pay to resolve possible payola violations in April.

Return to: What's Next? Marching Bands?