Oct 19, 2005

Public Performance Right

Before time began (or, for our purposes anyway) there has been a public performance right for songwriters but not one for singers, drummers, bass players, guitar leads, etc. For example, if you hear Aretha Franklin's R-E-S-P-E-C-T on your oldies station, Otis Redding's estate gets a check for the performance of his song on the radio (because he wrote it, Aretha just recorded it). Aretha Franklin and the musicians who recorded her version of the song get nothing but the public's respect. Sort of the opposite problem from Rodney Dangerfield. See?

For years everyone who has anything to do with music (except for the big broadcasting lobby group) has asked Congress to institute a public performance right so that Aretha and the musicians who recorded the famous version of the song would be paid each time it is played on the radio or in a public place, just the same as Otis' estate is paid. The NAB (big broadcasting lobby group) has manhandled Congress into denying the request each time the issue has come up. Their arguments? As far as I can tell, there aren't too many other than "We just don't want to pay that. Wah."
NAB says:
1. Radio is a promotional tool for a record, so the musicians are paid in-kind.

*Wendy wonders: ok, radio is promotional, but it's also using a valuable item to draw in advertising dollars for the station over airwaves that the PUBLIC owns, so everyone who contributes valuable work should get fair compensation. By the NAB's line of thinking, I don't know why they don't go hog wild and deny Otis his compensation for having written the song as well. It doesn't make any sense to use this argument for one kind of payment and not for the other. My best guess is that the NAB didn't have their influence machine quite as together when this right was instituted. Now they look silly.

When digital craziness hit our lives last decade, Congress took a look at these rights again, and they did establish a performance right for the Aretha's of the world on digital broadcasts such as satellite radio and webcasts. During this process, the NAB walked in with their big muscles; they shook the table, demanded and received an exemption from the public performance right. Again.
NAB says:
2. Radio does not displace record sales like these newfangled digital broadcasts have the potential of doing.

*Wendy wonders: ok, so you realize that the right-click-as digital culture *may* displace sales, but you're still back in the old days with analog radio. Well, not for long! You're transitioning! Radio will soon move from analog to digital, erasing this argument with analog transmissions. And, you've already conceded that digital performances SHOULD pay the public performance right.

Conclusion: There's no reason for Congress to deny working musicians a public performance right. Read this. But they probably will just because the NAB weilds a lot of power on the hill. Money talks in the halls of legislation, I suppose.

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