Friday, June 25, 2010

How to Set Fire to a False Flag

It was about 1 year ago when I first heard public service announcements (PSAs) on Radio One's WMMJ 102.3 alerting listeners to 'Reality Radio' -- a call to arms against the Performance Royalties Act, H.R. 848, as introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. John Conyers.  The PSAs frame H.R. 848 as a direct threat to Black broadcasters (and by extension, 'urban' radio) with its proposed royalty schedule's supposedly onorous effect on station operating expenses.   According to the PSAs' announcer, Radio One chairwoman Catherine Hughes, the royalty is prohibitive to the point Black broadcasters, many with already tenuous financial situations in a tight economy, will end up going out of business.  Implicit in Hughes' arguement is the fallacy should Black broadcasters disappear,  urban radio formats will disappear with them.

Listeners were instructed at the end of the PSAs to contact U.S. Representative Donna Edwards about H.R. 848.  I wrote the following to Rep. Edwards:

July 1, 2009

The Honorable Donna Edwards
U.S. Hou
se of Representatives
318 Cannon House Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

I am writing to urge your support of H.R. 848, the Performance Rights Act bill, introduced by Rep. Conyers. Your name is provided as the contact person in a commercial currently being broadcast on WMMJ 102.3 FM in Washington, D.C.. I telephoned your office to provide my comments on the issue, but feel more explanation is needed than a simple rejection or endorsement of legislation..
As you may know, many performers ‘cover’ lyrics published by third parties when creating recordings, and that unlike songwriters and composers (and in many cases, record labels), these performers do not receive performance royalties when their work is aired by broadcast radio and television stations. I have a minor philosophical objection to paying a royalty to someone for whom as a broadcaster I’m otherwise (1) providing a forum for exhibition but (2) not generating income from sales of their production. However, the objection is mooted by certain realities of the recording and broadcast industries. Radio stations like WMMJ indirectly earn tens of thousands of dollars annually from the exhibition of songs from performers covering lyrics owned by a 3rd party. Broadcasters currently pay publishing royalties, so I fail to understand the rationale for their not paying a performance royalty, especially since Internet, satellite, and cable radio stations pay performance royalties -- to a much more prohibitive and regressive schedule in the case of the webcasters. Over-the-air broadcasters should not be exempted from the same requirements.

I propose you endorse H.R. 848 with two caveats: that the tax be progressive -- with marginal rate brackets created to avoid creating disincentives for small- and medium-sized radio stations; that similar modifications be made to the current law as pertaining to performance royalties for web- and satcasters in order to ensure more competition between all these radio media.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not reside in your district. But I have worked in broadcasting and presently consult on various new media projects, including Internet radio, and IPTV. I would be happy to make myself available to share my knowledge and experience on these industries upon request. Thank you for your continued service to the public.


William L. Tucker, Jr.

My point in writing to Rep. Edwards was not to call out Hughes or RadioOne for hypocrisy and demagoguery.  Given the dynamics between broadcasters and their audiences, there's no way for me as a listener to affect significant reforms upon Hughes and Al Liggins' style of management or programming decisions.  I am guided by a larger principle: performing artists are entitled to a royalty from broadcasters just as are lyricists and composers.  There's no valid justification or philosophical rationale for exempting broadcasters from the same copyright regulations satcasters and webcasters are obliged to follow.  Hughes, Liggins, and other broadcasters are certainly aware how the status quo benefits them while it exploits countless numbers of performers.  So since copyright law is a political issue, I felt the most effective venue for action is our political system.  I voiced my opinion to a member of Congress.  I urge every reader of this essay who feels similarly moved to do likewise.

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