Some Bad News for the Internet Radio Fairness Act
The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Intercollegiate Broadcast System, Inc.; Tuesday, challenging the authority of the Copyright Royalty Board – a panel of three judges appointed by the Librarian of Congress. The goal was overturning the Board’s decision that noncommercial educational webcasters pay a $500 annual per channel fee to stream unlimited music. This is not only a defeat for IBS, Inc.; it’s bad news for online music services in their own legislative battles down the line.
What’s that got to do with hipsters? The most common jest is that hipsters are always lamenting that they were hip to that band way before they sold out and got… * shiver*… popular. Well now hipsters everywhere will be happy (to the extent they can be happy) to know the problem of good independent artists finding commercial success may have just gotten worse as a result of the Supreme Court’s inaction.
The music business for many decades has had the problems of an un-level playing field in the distribution of the product and unfair access for artists to the marketplace. A relatively small amount of record labels and radio companies controlled the lion’s share of the music people were exposed to and it was tough for an unknown band to get noticed. This led to payola, pay-to-play, cocaine in the record jacket and any number of unethical favors, nepotism and other shenanigans that were necessary for musicians and music companies to engage in to make a profit.
Enter the Internet: Now we’re gonna get paid, baby! Well, maybe…
Here’s the deal: You know about Pandora, and these other online services where you can get “free” music streaming through your computer, Ipad and smartphones, right? Turns out they have to pay around six times what companies like SiriusXM and other cable and satellite services must pay artists for song royalties. And get this: “Terrestrial” radio (regular AM/FM stations) don’t pay artists a dime. It is a not so mysterious loophole that allows them to earn tens of billions of dollars off the backs of artists without paying them anything directly. Now these entrenched, lobbyist and lawyered-up establishment distributors of the music industry are fighting to keep the status quo – and they actually have the big name artists fighting alongside of them!
Not too hard to believe, really. Same old story: A group of 125 musicians, including Billy Joel, Rihanna, Missy Elliot and Maroon 5 are fighting against the “Internet Radio Fairness Act” (IRFA) bill which is being pushed by companies like Pandora. The bill levels the amount of licensing fees Internet services like Pandora and Spotify must pay to musicians to be commensurate with cable and satellite services. Forget that AM/FM conglomerates pay them absolutely nothing – these multi-millionaire artists want the Internet stifled for the same reason the big music distributors want them out: To keep their giant piece of the pie. These phony hippocrates are typical of liberals who say they’re for the little guy and fairness, but when the rubber hits the road, they just look to their own pocket books. They have no interest in the lowly struggling artist who will be affected the most by less choice in the marketplace. And that’s exactly what will happen if the IRFA fails as the appeal by the Intercollegiate Broadcast System to the Supreme Court did on Tuesday.
This bill is really just new price-fixing legislation to fix earlier price-fixing legislation and they could just stop all the price-fixing and let the market determine what artists get paid by everyone, including terrestrial stations… I’m sorry, I dosed off there for a second. But seriously, why don’t they just get rid of the first piece of price-fixing and set a price for everyone if they must? Of course, I also said; “why don’t they just reform Social Security and Medicare?” Then I got run over by a bunch of seniors in their Rascals… but I digress.
Bottom line: If the Internet Radio Fairness Act fails, there will be less choice for consumers, less music will be distributed, less unknown artists will be discovered and more money will be concentrated in the hands of the same companies and big music acts. I love the Internet for the main reason that it allows the individual who wants to work hard to get their whatever out to whoever. There are no excuses when you have a phone line, a lap-top and 18 hours a day my friend – and if you’re a struggling musician – the world of Internet is where it’s at. If you happen to be a hipster, add a stupid looking hat to the list.
Rodney Lee Conover is a writer / performer, living in Southern California’s Mohave Desert