Pay to Play

May 13, 2009

Black Stations Protest Radio Fees Bill: Deb Price-Detroit News

Over the objections of some African-American radio stations in Michigan, Rep. John Conyers will try to move a bill today through his House Judiciary Committee requiring over-the-air radio stations to pay royalties to performing artists. Radio One Detroit plans a “Save Black Radio” rally at the Democratic Judiciary chairman’s Detroit office at noon. “The music that the public now listens to for free would cost radio stations millions of dollars to play, essentially crippling black radio stations financially,” the station’s announcement said.
But Conyers and a bipartisan group of allies counter that performer royalties are paid by webcasters, satellite radio providers and cable companies. The bill, they argue, simply corrects an inequity in copyright law. “All those in the creative chain of musical production — the artists, musicians and others who enrich us culturally — deserve to be justly compensated for their work,” Conyers said in introducing the bill in February. Critics of the Performance Rights Act say the fee threatens the survival of small radio stations, particularly during rocky economic times. They also argue that, by playing artists’ songs, they help propel them to stardom and wealth through CD sales and concert tickets.

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Interesting. This would be quite an about face for the radio industry–constantly rocked by payola scandals where the labels pay the stations to play their music!
Clearly this is a transparent attempt by a failing industry to generate profits while their sales plummet as a result of internet downloading, exorbitant CD prices, and an unwillingness to get with the times; but the US is the only country that does not pay royalties to its artists for radio play (although it is arguable that the promotion of their product by being in constant rotation is pay enough). Maybe higher royalty rates at major labels will encourage stations to look outside the recording industry structure and play new or indie artists. The payment structure will vary based on the type of station, $1000/year for public radio, $5000/year for small stations, and more, possibly per play for major radio conglomerates. So although it is an additional fee on radio stations, that are legally prohibited from charging the public to listen on public airwaves; these fees do not seem prohibitively expensive for smaller stations… Is it possible, although this is pretty obviously a way for a drowning industry to generate some quick cash to stay afloat, that the ends justify the means? Thoughts?