Why Radio Performance Royalties Aren't Fair

28 January 2009

We all know that performance royalties from radio stations is a hot topic right now.   Already in place for on-line radio, performance royalties are the reason for the existence of the much criticized SoundExchange.  They have also been blamed for forcing a variety of internet radio stations out of business.  Yet, as Copyrights & Campaigns reported, the RIAA is aggressively pursuing performance royalties.  As usual, the industry has convinced some members of Congress that imposing performance royalties on terrestrial radio stations is necessary.  Their basic cry: It isn't fair!  Meaning of course, that the current system isn't fair because song writers get paid when their songs are played on the radio, but performers don't.  But it is fair, and here's why:

Imagine you're a parent with two children.  The children help you with the yard work, so to thank them, you give them each a piece of fruit.  One child gets an orange; the other gets an apple.  Then the child with the orange cries that it's not fair because he doesn't have an apple and his sibling does.  He's right that his sibling received something that he did not, but that does not make it unfair.  Each child has still received something for their work.

The same thing happens when a song is played on the radio.  Each contributor gets something, but it may not necessarily be the same thing.  The songwriter gets royalties.  The performer gets something else, and I'm not talking about the old it's-promotional-so-people-will-buy-the-music-and-go-to-concerts argument.

Performers get recognition.  This recognition translates into plenty of other revenues and opens doors to other opportunities that songwriters do not get.  When a song becomes a hit, it is associated with the performer, not with the song writer.  How many artists can you name that are known for the music they wrote and not music they performed.  Bob Dylan?  And he even performed sometimes.  (Though his songs were usually made popular by other performers.)  When a DJ announces a song on the radio, he does not say, "And that was just "S.O.S" by Evan Bogart, Ed Cobb and J.R. Rotem!"  No, he says, "That was "S.O.S. by Rihanna."  There's a reason Rihanna has a lucrative endorsement deal with Covergirl and J.R. Rotem does not (besides the fact that he's a guy).  How many strictly songwriters can you name with their own clothing lines or licensing deals to plaster their faces on school supplies?  How many people would line up outside a mall to meet Kuk Harrell?  You get the idea.

Songwriters and performers are both in the music industry, but they have different purposes, different lifestyles and different goals.  Why then should they be compensated as if they are the same?  Putting a performance royalties burden on terrestrial stations will not make things more "fair."  It will upset the current balance between performers, songwriters, and the people who love to listen to their music on the radio.


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