When it comes to an issues as complex and contentious as copyright, artist compensation, and fair business, maybe real clarity was simply too tall an order. A panel with four intelligent and strongly-opinionated players whose top goal is to advocate their position (and not necessarily educate an audience) arguing for 40 minutes was doomed to (as they say) generate more heat than light.
Truly the Future of Music Coalition put together a great panel of speakers (as well as a truly terrific day of content). Unfortunately, as it goes with issues like this, it's arguable whether any audience member was able to come away with a cooler or clearer head.
Today's discussion at the Future of Music Summit event in Washington, D.C. focused on the Internet Radio Fairness Act. Arguing against the bill was musical artist and University of Georgia lecturer David Lowery, Assc. General Counsel of the AFM Patricia Polach, and SoundExchange General Counsel Colin Rushing (the latter two are pictured at right).
CEA SVP/Government Affairs Michael Petricone and AccuRadio founder Kurt Hanson (publisher of this news source) spoke in support of the bill.
[The chief objective of the IRFA, a bill that's been introduced to both the House and the Senate, is to require Internet radio sound recording royalties, when determined by the government, to be based on the legal standard known as 801(b). 801(b) requires the government to consider the effects of its decision on the public's access to copyright material and the businesses involved, and is the standard used for satellite radio and cable radio royalty rates. Critics of the IRFA prefer the current "willing buyer willing seller" standard -- unique to Internet radio -- which they say leads to royalty rates based on a "fair market value" for music.]
Perhaps most frustrating was the lack of any real back-and-forth on the actual merits of the 801(b) versus the "willing buyer willing seller" standards.
For instance, panelists arguing against the IRFA suggested that it's not logical to change the royalties standard "used by thousands of webcasters" to one used "by only two services" (SiriusXM and Music Choice) -- ignoring the fact that those two companies represent two entire industries (satellite radio and cable radio). Additionally, Rushing and Polach asserted that "willing buyer willing seller" determinations are fair because they truly represent some objective and universal "fair market value" for music. Hanson tried to demonstrate the absurdity of this by suggesting the fair market wouldn't pay fifty cents for his cat that he values at thousands of dollars, but no one seemed interested in following his logic. Rushing and Polach simply complained that advocating for 801(b) was asking for a "below market rate."
In fact, an audience member tried to get panelists to address "just what is it that's wrong with 801(b)," as it's the same standard used to set rates that record labels themselves pay for musical compositions. The only response to this point came from Rushing, whose argument came down to "mechanicals (royalty rate settings) are very different."
Undoubtedly farthest afield were the arguments from Lowery (the second photo has Hanson on the left, Lowery on the right). Concentrating on the bill's less-publicized points (we covered David Oxenford's excellent piece regarding these here), he seemed more intent on being provocative than logical. He argued that the IRFA's measures that remove "the precedential effect" of past royalty decisions on future decisions would be "killing my free speech" and "muzzling artists." His claim is that the IRFA isn't even about rates, "this entire bill is about 'agency capture' -- broadcasters taking over copyright."
The understated Petricone assured Lowery that truly objectionable details could be ironed out in the committee process, and weren't call for abandoning the entire bill.
We understand Backbone Networks (which is streaming the Summit live) will soon post archived audio of the panel. We'll let you know where when they do.