Senate Hearing: The Search for Compromise on Music Performance Royalties - Part Two: The Issue of Perspective
Last week, we wrote about one issue that was addressed at last week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on music royalties - the standards used to derive the royalties, and expressed hope that there was at least some interest in compromise on behalf of the Senators and industry representatives. However, another issue which came out of those hearings suggests that compromise may not be so easy if the parties really believe what they say - as there is a fundamental distinction in both how the parties view the health of the Internet radio business, and how they view the relationship between royalties and the music business generally. One can only hope that the gulf that was evident was just due to public posturing as, if it was not, there may well be an insurmountable differences between the parties that cannot be bridged in any settlement negotiations over the royalties that Internet radio pays for the use of sound recordings.
The gap became evident from the opening statements of the first panel - comprised of two Senators interested in the issue- Senator Wyden on behalf of the Internet Radio Equality Act stating that it was necessary to avoid having the high royalties decided by the Copyright Royalty Board destroy a fledgling technology, while Senator Corker of Tennessee talked about the importance of music to radio and the exhaustive process that the CRB had gone through in arriving at the royalties that it approved. But in the day's principal panel, the issues became crystal clear, as John Simson of SoundExchange talked about the "vibrant" business of Internet radio, citing an analyst's report that Internet radio would be a $20 billion advertising market by 2020, and the statement of an employee of CBS that Internet radio was a great business and that CBS was going to "own it." Speaking next, Joe Kennedy, CEO of Internet radio company Pandora had a dramatically different perspective - talking about an industry analyst who stated that the royalties that would result from the CRB royalties would exceed the revenue of the Internet Radio industry, and that, for Pandora, the failure to find a compromise solution to the CRB-imposed royalties would mean that his service would "die." He pointed to Pandora's position as the largest of the Internet radio companies in terms of listenership, the $25 million in revenue that it expects to make this year, and how $18,000,000 of that would go just to the SoundExchange royalties - 75% of its revenue to this one expense.
The disconnect over Internet radio was evident not only in the discussions of the revenues, but in the discussion of the meaning of Internet radio to artists. Simpson started his testimony talking about three heirs of deceased musicians who were thrilled by their SoundExchange royalty checks as the musician they represented had not made any money during their lifetimes from their recording and touring careers. He used this introduction to launch into a discussion of the need for this compensation to reward artists for their performances as the world moves from a culture of possessing music to one where music is not owned but merely listened to through various platforms. As musicians will no longer be compensated through the sale of the their records, they need to make up the revenue from lost sales through performance licensees such as those reflected by the CRB-imposed royalties. Musician John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting echoed Simpson's points, contending that compensation through royalties puts food on the table of musicians, and was necessary to avoid discouraging new artists, thereby hurting the country's economic and cultural life. Ondrasik stated that he had received about $9,000 in royalties from SoundExchange the prior year which, while it might not seem like much, had made a difference.
In counterpoint to these witnesses, musician Matt Nathanson stated that, while he does not mind getting money from royalties, the promotional effects of Internet radio was so great that he would prefer to give up some royalties to insure that Internet radio can become profitable and grow. He stated that Internet digital delivery of music had changed the economics of the music industry, leveling the playing field for artists. No longer are musicians required to be dependent on the record companies for their livelihoods. Nathanson made the following points:
- Blogs, email, viral marketing, and on-line listening have allowed musicians to keep in touch with their fans, without the need for a record label promotions department
- The digital delivery of music ends the fight for shelf space in record stores, allows musicians to audition their music directly to the consumer (on their websites, MySpace pages or through Internet radio) so that they can build an audience on-line
- In this new system, promotion is the key way to make an audience to grow, and Internet radio is an important component of that promotion given its diverse programming
- Digital delivery makes sales and promotions opportunities more equal - by getting rid of scarcity you don't give limited power to a handful of broadcasters, nor are there necessarily a handful of major artists who get all the promotion through airplay
- The new system favors new artists and, if the growth of Internet radio is limited because of royalties, it will most hurt the small and developing artists who are promoted through the multiple channels of Internet radio
Kennedy of Pandora made the point that Internet radio democratizes radio, suggesting that if lower royalties are not agreed to, only broadcasters who can subsidize their operations through their broadcast operations would be left on the Internet. Diversity would be lost. Nathanson stated that such consolidation would be a "huge step back" for artists. Senators on the panel remarked that Nathanson's view was a different perspective that they had not heard before (they obviously don't read this blog, as we remarked on some of these same points in posts including one here - mentioning that points made by one of SoundExchange's own witnesses at the hearings before the CRB talked about how new artists would probably benefit from promotion when more established artists might be more hurt by any substitutional effects of Internet radio). After his testimony, there was much discussion of the real debate being between the new and old ways of doing things.
In response, Simson of SoundExchange, trying to refute Nathanson's position, said that the benefits that he suggests were not available to the estates of artists who had died. But Nathanson, in perhaps the most telling line of the hearing, said that the it wasn't Internet radio that put the artists in that position - it was the record companies and their contracts with the artists. Nathanson concluded that Simson was proposing to right the wrongs of the past by crushing a new industry that had nothing to do with creating those wrongs in the first place.
Obviously, these differing perspectives - even among artists themselves - do not make settlement easy. And there were other issues that were discussed at the hearing - stream-ripping, the broadcast performance royalty and the fear of "subsidizing" technologies that will be discussed in the third part of summary, to be posted in a few days.