The Washington Post today ran an article on the continuing Internet radio royalty battle – highlighting the service Pandora and the fact that it will likely go out of business if the current dispute about royalties is not resolved. We wrote (here and here) about many of these same issues in our coverage
Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the sound recording performance royalty, titling the hearing "Music and Radio in the 21st Century: Assuring Fair Rates and Rules Across Platforms" (a webcast of which can be accessed here). While the hearing was ostensibly to search for a way to come up with a uniform system of determining music royalties across various digital media platforms (though the broadcast analog performance royalty snuck into the discussion from time to time), in reality it appeared to be two things – a search for compromise and a demonstration of the dramatically different perspectives from which the recording industry and the digital radio industry approach the topic. While one might assume that the dramatically different approaches would mean that no compromise was possible, there were a few areas of commonality that perhaps reflect the potential that, at some point, common ground can be found. We will review the hearing’s discussions in multiple parts – today dealing with the issue of the standard to be used in assessing royalties for the public performance of sound recordings and, in a subsequent post, we will summarize the differing world views of the participants and why the dramatically different ways that they see the business make for difficulty in compromise.
But first, a summary of the issues that were to be discussed at the hearing. Essentially, the hearing was to discuss two bills addressing different aspects of the royalty issues. Senator Feinstein of California, who chaired the hearing, was looking for any common ground that might exist that would allow for movement on the Perform Act that she has introduced. That act would attempt to do two things – (1) assure that a common standard was used to assess sound recording royalties in all digital media and (2) adopt standards that would require digital services to use some form of security or encryption that would make "stream ripping" more difficult. The first goal of her bill, looking for a common standard, was an attempt to avoid some of the problems that have been evident in the royalty proceedings that have thus far been held before the Copyright Royalty Board which have resulted in dramatically different royalties – ranging from 6 to 8% of revenue for satellite radio companies and a similar royalty for digital cable music services (see our posts on those rates here and here) derived under an "801(b) standard" (after section 801b of the Copyright Act) , and the royalty for Internet radio that has been estimated to range between 75% and 300% of gross revenues of those services, derived from a "willing buyer, willing seller" royalty standard. The Perform Act would subject all to a single standard – and it currently proposes a new standard – "fair market value."
Once again, the extension of the sound recording performance royalty to broadcasters has become a hot topic in Washington. The subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the bill introduced by Congressman Berman (about which we first reported here). That bill would include broadcasters in the Section 114 sound recoding royalty currently applicable to digital music users including Internet radio, satellite radio and cable radio. Under the bill, the Copyright Royalty Board would be charged with the responsibility of determining what a royalty would be using the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard. Following this subcommittee approval, the bill would next be considered by the full committee. To become law, the Committee and the full House of Representatives would have to approve it, and similar legislation would need to be enacted by the Senate. As the NAB has garnered the support of a majority of the members of the House on a non-binding resolution opposing the imposition of the royalty on broadcasters, and as there is not much time remaining in the legislative session before the election and the end of this Congress, the whole process may well have to start fresh in 2009 (bills have to be reintroduced after the end of each two-year Congressional session). Yet, with all of the controversy over the issue in recent weeks, it appears certain that the issue will arise again, so it is important to look at some of the recent action.
Two weeks ago, the House subcommittee held a hearing on the issue. Prior to the hearing, the MusicFirst Coalition (principally supported by the RIAA and the affiliated record companies as 50% of any royalty goes to the copyright holders who are usually the labels) had Nancy Sinatra and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band making the rounds on Capitol Hill in support of the royalty. These appearances follow the precedent set in earlier Capitol Hill proceedings, where the Coalition has brought in niche or oldies artists to address Congress – not major popular current acts. The artists who have testified (who have included Judy Collins, Sam Moore, Lyle Lovett, and Alice Peacock) have argued that the additional income that they would receive from a performance royalty would supplement their incomes which, in some cases, has either never been great or has declined as the demand or ability to tour has declined. The argument is always made that the royalty will encourage musicians to produce their music – though it is rarely if ever claimed that music wouldn’t be made if the royalty is not adopted, as songs have been written and sung for time immemorial, well before any royalty existed, merely for the pleasure or to fulfill the need for self-expression. The question is not one of ensuring the availability of music, but instead it is one about who should get how much of whatever money is made, directly or indirectly, from the use of that music.