February 13, 2009

The Future of Music Policy

On Wednesday I attended the Future of Music Coalition’s Policy Day here in Washington, D.C. The event brings together musicians, techies, policymakers and advocates to discuss the changing music and technology policy landscape, and how these emerging issues might impact artists. My experience with FMC events over the years has taught me to expect that the panel topics will always be timely and include stellar participants and thought leaders in the field. This year was no exception.

The day’s agenda included discussion of issues both new and old. One of the recurring issues at this high tech event actually concerns good old-fashioned terrestrial radio.

While the internet can often be viewed as an unfriendly place for musicians’ pockets, online radio has proven to be one of more lucrative digital channels for artists. Online radio stations are currently required to pay a performance royalty to musicians every time their song is played. Terrestrial radio, on the other hand, still benefits from an exemption that allows them to avoid paying performance royalties to musicians. The U.S. stands out in this regard, as many other parts of the world do not provide this exemption to broadcasters.

The Performance Rights Act, a bill that was recently introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) would require broadcasters to pay performers a fee for broadcasting their songs over terrestrial radio.

However, strong opposition to the bill may very well squelch this latest effort to compensate artists when their music is played over AM and FM radio; groups like the National Association of Broadcasters are finding support in Congress by arguing that a requirement to dole out these royalties would force them to cut jobs at a time when revenues are already down.

At Wednesday’s event, panelists provided more insight into the royalty debate and the ongoing tension over the effects of consolidation on the diversity of radio content.

Those interested in the full webcast of the event can watch it here.