McLane: Broadcasters' Tone Shift on Performance Royalty

I hate to say I told you so, but …From the sound of things, radio���s big cheeses may be bracing their troops for some compromise and conciliation on the performance royalty. Recall that Radio World opined last year that
Publish date:

I hate to say I told you so, but …

From the sound of things, radio’s big cheeses may be bracing their troops for some compromise and conciliation on the performance royalty.

Recall that Radio World opined last year that the two sides (broadcasters and the record labels, through MusicFirst) would do better to talk with each other than scream at each other, something Congress also began leaning on them to do.

Further, I also have written in the past that, though I understand why radio owners resist paying a new fee for their content, I think ultimately they will lose the battle to convince legislators.

Performers, I said and continue to feel, would eventually win because they have an argument that is simpler to understand and more sympathetic, namely: “Don’t use the fruits of my labor without my permission.”

Whether one accepts the moral argument or not is almost beside the point. My feeling has been that radio would help itself more by recognizing the likely outcome and working with artists to shape a future relationship, rather than demonize performers, and vice-versa. But broadcasters for some time continued to treat even the suggestion of compromise as anathema. To discuss such a thing would be to proceed from a position of weakness, in their eyes. The willingness of artists to come to the table probably only strengthened owners' conviction that to do so would be akin to surrender.

Yet now Tom Taylor, at the e-newsletter, reports that Bruce Reese, head of Bonneville, thinks members of Congress “really want to pass” the performance royalty legislation. He quoted Reese saying he would “love to cut a deal and figure out a deal that works monetarily for our business.”

Reese is a former chair of the NAB board, presumably as well immersed in this issue as any broadcaster can be. This reflects an ongoing change of tone for the broadcast side (which already had become notably more subdued in its positioning since Gordon Smith replaced David Rehr). To hear Reese even use the word “deal” in public is noteworthy. NAB's own SmartBrief newsletter then led off with links to news items about a possible compromise.

Not that Bruce Reese has had a change of heart on the main question of a royalty, or is about to just roll over and give up trying to get the best deal he can for radio owners. (Nor do all other radio leaders agree with him.) The Bonneville exec simply is acknowledging reality: Artists have made a strong case on Capitol Hill; radio has had to fight very hard just to keep them at bay; and broadcasters’ strategy could end up costing owners more than it is worth, both in lobbying and in reputation among artists whose work radio relies on.

As I wrote last year: “We think it would better serve radio station owners and employees to work out a solution that recognizes this reality rather than heighten the confrontation that exists between these ‘partners.’ Because at the end of the day, we still need this marriage.”

Reese’s comments seem to open the door a crack further for some kind of reasonable reconciliation. Let’s see if artists respond to the opportunity.

“Time for a Performance Royalty Cease Fire?” (RW Blog, June 2009)

“Performance Tax: Worth the Fight” (NAB commentary, July 2009)

“This Is a Simple Issue of Fairness” (MusicFirst commentary, Sept. 2009)


McLane: Cooler Heads Are Prevailing Now

  Paul McLane is editor in chief U.S. of Radio World.Kudos to the cooler heads who seem to be prevailing these days at NAB and among the nation's most influential broadcasters on the topic of a performance royalty. I'll tell

McLane: Shortwave on the High Seas Cruise

Shortwave broadcasters, like NBA players and rock musicians, are known for their hard partying.OK, maybe not so much like NBA players but if your thing is to talk with fellow shortwave enthusiasts or meet with a shortwave broadcaster to get

Image placeholder title

McLane on: The RDS Placemat

(click thumbnail) Here's the RDS 'placemat' created by Lukas Hurwitz using , showing mobile phones that have RDS functionality. (Note, this is a large file.) A person who brings a fresh perspective sometimes can give us … well, a fresh perspective. Inovonics, which makes

McLane on: FOIA Docs Provide a Peek Into Enforcement

A San Francisco based organization interested in digital rights has posted documents related to the FCC’s authority to conduct warrantless searches of private residences.These documents were the result of a Freedom of Information Act request and were received last fall