Have you heard about the latest bullshit gouge attempt by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)? Now that the organization has successfully devastated the Internet radio community, it's targeting terrestrial radio for an ever bigger chunk of a pie that the RIAA doesn't deserve.
The RIAA is doing this, of course, because the recording industry as we know it is dying. The digital age has been brutal to it, and what we are now witnessing are the death throes of the great beast as it flaps its tendrils wildly, trying to grab on to anything it can to keep from going under.
In other words, it's not dying with dignity.
Here's the back-story: Under current law, terrestrial radio stations are exempt from paying royalties to record companies because, in a nutshell, the record companies greatly benefit from that radio exposure. Sounds like a fair swap, right? Free promotion for free music. However, as we speak, the RIAA is preparing to fight this exemption in Congress.
Lord of Christ, how I despise the RIAA. Always have. It's nothing but a giant steaming pile of soul-sapping corporate lawyer warthogs who don't give a dried-out old frumunda ball about the consumer or the artists they claim to represent: Remember when the RIAA sued Brianna Lahara, that 12-year-old file-sharing menace to society, for copyright infringement? Remember when it paid a $144 million settlement in 2002 for price fixing? Remember how it successfully lobbied Congress to amend the Copyright Act with a self-serving 'work for hire'clause, how it crushed Internet radio by raising royalties tenfold, and how it continually moves toward decreasing the amount of royalties it should have to pay the artist while at the same time increasing the royalties it collects from radio and other broadcasters?
Indeed, the entire RIAA operation is inherently corrupt. Here's why: The RIAA collects royalties on copyrighted music. That money is retained by the RIAA until the artist in question pays a membership fee. Only after paying the fee can the artist collect on his or her ever-diminishing royalty. Anything unclaimed the RIAA keeps.
Talk about a triple-dip. And presumptuous! It would be like a stranger collecting the 100 bucks your friend Joe owes you, then turning around and charging you $25 to get it from the stranger. What gives the RIAA the right to collect your debts without asking?
According to the L.A. Times, Mary Wilson (co-founder of the original Supremes) is against the exemption for radio. 'After so many years of not being compensated,'Wilson said, 'it would be nice now at this late date to at least start. They've gotten 50-some years of free play. Now maybe it's time to pay up.”
First off, I highly doubt you didn't get paid. Maybe you didn't get your fair share of the pie, but that's on your record label. If anyone owes you money, it's Berry Gordy. Certainly not Clear Channel. What part of 'free advertising'do you not understand? Part of the reason for your worldwide fame is because your music was played on stations around the globe. That made you famous. It's not radio's fault you didn't negotiate a better deal with Motown. And stop whining about file-sharing. You can't, as an artist, release something into the world and expect to contain it. Why would you want to? Art is a form of expression, and once you express something, once you release it into the world, it becomes part of that world. Any attempt to forestall that process misses the point of art.
So, yes, I have a bias. I do not much care for the RIAA or its sniveling members. But for the sake of fairness, I'm going to give its position due consideration. Because I am square and balanced, I will ponder the question at hand: Should radio stations pay for the songs they play?
It all comes down to the question of which has more value-the content or the commercial? It's the eternal conundrum of art vs. commerce, really. And I happen to know a simple way to figure it out, once and for all:
Let the market sort it out. Yes, it would really work this time. All you have to do is remove the radio exemption (forcing radio to pay royalties), then, in turn, allow those stations to charge for advertising (i.e. playing songs). The ensuing negotiations would, over time, give us the exact value of every song on the playlist, negative or positive.
For instance, say American Recordings is trying to introduce a song by a new band called Jimmy Blandy and the Cold Dry Toast Suckers. Well, it's likely the record company would pay to have it played because Jimmy and the Suckers are untested, with no name recognition. So that song would retain a negative value.
However, if Johnny Cash returned from the dead with a song he wrote in Heaven containing the answers to the universe, with some background vocals from God, well, that song would probably have a high positive value because radio would pay good and plenty for the right to play that song. Indeed, every song-from Jimmy Blandy to dead Johnny and everything in between-would have its own negotiation and eventually a value would be given to them all. Of course, those values would fluctuate as the worth of any song is in permanent flux, but that fluctuation only makes the song values truer.
So, the question becomes: Under this new system of truer song values, how would the recording industry fare compared to the old system of free promotion for free music? My guess is that it would lose. Because this society tends to value commercial over content. Because the RIAA is nothing without radio. Because if the industry doesn't back off, the radio stations just might wise up and unify. Then they can just turn around and say, 'You know what RIAA? Fuck you and your pissy-lilly union music. We'll stop playing RIAA bands altogether. We'll find our own stable of performers and make them pop stars by sheer virtue of broadcasting the hell out of 'em. Just watch how quickly you lose members then. Pissants! Death to the RIAA!'
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