National battle over music royalties continues in DC

By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org

WASHINGTON — Money changes hands somewhere along the way of a song’s journey from its creator’s mind to your ears.

MONEY: The war over music royalties is being fought on Capitol Hill.

Where that money changes hands, and how much, is a sore spot between songwriters and technology companies, who aired their grievances about one another Tuesday before members of Congress.

Sitting before the House Judiciary Committee, Lee Knife, executive director of the Digital Media Association DiMA, which represents Amazon.com, Apple, Google/YouTube, Microsoft, and Rhapsody, explained that DiMA’s members have created new revenue streams for artists, increasing royalties paid out to copyright owners.

“SoundExchange, for example, recently reported a 312 percent increase in the total sum of royalties it paid to recording artists and labels in 2012 versus 2008,” Knife said.

Songwriters, like Lee Miller, president of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, however, lament the hardships of the songwriting profession.

“Since I started, nine out of 10 of my colleagues don’t write songs as a profession anymore, because their royalties cannot feed their families,” Miller told members.

Consumer demand for quality, and affordable, access to various types of content in whatever form is most convenient — whether that be a TV, radio, personal computer or mobile device — creates a natural tension between copyright owners and the companies distributing their work.

Internet radio service Pandora’s recent court battle with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, a major music licensing organization, for example, over music royalty rates was one episode in a long war.

Traditional radio continues to be another arena.

As the Pandora-ASCAP legal battle highlighted, radio broadcasters pay 1.7 percent of revenue generated from airing licensed music. Licensing organizations and songwriters would like to see royalty rates increase. Radio broadcasters would rather they not.

But, as a recent Tennessee Watchdog report points out, the federal government set the royalty rates central to Miller’s lament, not the free market.

Contact Josh Peterson at jpeterson@watchdog.org. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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