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America's radio lobby 'fighting dirty'

'Snot fair, says RIAA

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World Copyright Summit Who's the most powerful entertainment lobby in the United States?

Your answer must be someone who makes Congressmen and Senators quake - irrespective of their party, for generation after generation. And furthermore, that passes legislation that puts the US outside international norms, as a sort of outlaw.

Hollywood? That's not a daft guess. The MPAA is a lobby that wines and dines. The RIAA, you say? Get out of here! This once fierce attack dog is now a toothless old hound, its bark worse than its bite. It's only bloggers and law professors with a peculiar psychological quirk - (they love to feel victimised) - who have morphed the RIAA into the Beast with Many Heads. So that's not the right answer

No, the most powerful of them all is the American broadcasters. The financial advantage over music doesn't quite reflect its importance; "Big Radio" has twice the revenue of "Big Music" - but wields far more clout that matters. When broadcasters say jump, politicians ask "How high?"

The best example of how it's bested the other lobby groups is the performance right. Every developed country in the world, bar the USA, pays performers for radio play, with reciprocal money flowing back and forth between them. But because the US opted out, the reciprocals don't apply - so US performers don't get a penny for radio plays at home, or anywhere else in the world.

With the realisation that US artists are losing out globally, the issue has come up again this year, in a bill sponsored by John Conyers. And again the major radio lobby, the NAB, is fighting back. Its an arcane historical quirk - but in DC this week, the NAB's insisted the oddity belonged to everyone else.

"It's not a historical anomaly," insisted NAB lawyer Benjamin Invins. "The anomaly is that there's a performance right at all."

Even Gigi Sohn, head of the agit prop group Public Knowledge thought this was untenable. "It's a historical anomaly and broadcasters should pay," she said.

Invins was speaking on a lively panel chaired by former RIAA boss Hilary Rosen, who stirred the pot nicely. He conjured a picture of radio being forced to play older music or obscure music, rather than songs people want.

Politicians fear being singled out on the airwaves as Enemies of the People, and over 200 have signed a petition to bury the issue again.

RIAA Mitch Bainwold said it was misleading - the music business wants a broadcast right, not a full performance right. He argued that stations with $100,000 of revenue only needed a down payment of $500 - the proposal was full of exemptions and structured to make sure no one went bust.

"Why is it that the platform that has the greatest capacity to pay is now exempt?"

The NAB has infuriated the music producers by using the airwaves to draw attention to the royalty issue - filling slots agreed for local public information.

"They're advertising against this bill on free spectrum - refusing us to advertise against them. This is an abuse and it's an outrage."

Entertainment is a dirty business, as Mitch knows, but that's how you win. ®

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