Sunday, May 03, 2009

RIAA seeking radio money

Naturally, the RIAA aren't so stupid as to push Guy Hands into the battle to persuade Congress to pass a radio royalty for recorded music. Instead, they find a slightly more p=heart-rending spokesperson:

Jack Ely, the singer whose 1963 version of "Louie Louie" still makes the rounds on oldies radio, lives with his wife in a mobile home on a horse ranch in Oregon. Ely says they share $30,000 a year from her teacher's pension and his Social Security checks. They are paying down a mortgage.

So sometimes it bothers Ely, 65, when he hears his voice singing "Louie Louie" on the radio or in sports arenas, knowing he's not getting paid.

"It gets played twice a day by every oldies radio station everywhere in the world. And I get nothing," said Ely, who recorded the song with The Kingsmen before getting drafted by the Army and leaving the band. "I got one check for $5,000. That's all I ever saw from the sale of `Louie Louie.'"

It's a sad story. You might, of course, wonder if the single cheque might not suggest that not only were the radio companies not chipping in, but also the record companies. And if there isn't something a little tawdry in the RIAA parading people who they've spent forty years helping live in impoverishment in order to make a few more quid for their businesses.

But then again, the record companies aren't the most consistent of organisations. And perhaps if there was only one inconsistency it wouldn't be too bad.
Mitch Bainwol, the chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America, says he's prepared for a "multiyear" fight.

If I was a US radio broadcaster, that would give me heart - it's possible that in two or three years the RIAA, if it still exists, would be incapable of holding a beetle drive, never mind winning a legal battle. A long game would work in radio's interests.

The second inconsistency comes when comparing the RIAA's attitude to its members' incomes with its attitude to others' outgoings. The main reason why the RIAA wants piracy prosecuted and new copyright rules is because - although the music and media industries have changed completely, it still feels its income should at a level back like it was when it was delivering scarce, physical products. There should be every effort made to protect that income.

However, when it looks at FM and AM radio royalties in the US, this inherent conservative streak vanishes and - despite decades of precedence of the radio networks not having to pay, the RIAA feels that now, because the music and media industries have changed completely, the terms of trade must change to reflect that.

Yes, it's hypocrisy, but it's more than that. The RIAA have never taken a considered approach to anything in the last decade, just responding to each question as it comes up with the thought "how can we make the most money out of this?" What is most damning is the way these contradictions point to an organisation that is still just flapping in the breeze, without any real guiding principle at its heart.