Stopping the Internet Radio Fairness Act: The Power of A United Music Community
Exposing the Truth Behind a Bad Idea
The rise of streaming radio has provided a vital new income stream for artists and music creators because, unlike AM/FM, digital radio pays royalties for the music recordings that it airs. It is not perfect – digital services still refuse to pay for music recorded before early 1972 and satellite radio pays at an unreasonable below-market rate, but it is valuable. That is why the bogus “Internet Radio Fairness Act” proposal by Pandora and its allies, that aimed to slash digital royalty rates by 85%, was such a threat to music creators.
musicFIRST mobilized and led an unprecedented coalition uniting virtually all elements of the music family in a year-long effort to defeat the IRFA bill. Performers and songwriters, artists and labels, majors and independents, musicians and actors and comedians all joined together to make their voices heard and oppose this rip off. Outside groups of every philosophical stripe weighed in against this naked effort to distort the market and pick the pockets of working musicians – from the AFL-CIO and the NAACP to Americans for Tax Reform and Tea Party Nation.
The Power of Being Right – and Sticking Together
Why did so many diverse voices and organizations come together to oppose the bill? Because it was such a transparently bad idea. It was a narrow, one-sided, selfish effort to game the system to benefit a narrow class of services – while ignoring the real inequities within the music ecosystem.
Pandora had an argument that the unequal standards for radio platforms make no sense. Pandora pays fair market value for at least some of the music performances that it uses, while SiriusXM pays an unjustifiable, below-market rate and AM/FM pays nothing at all. Unfortunately, instead of working with the music community to level the playing field for all – as it had done in the past when supporting creation of an AM/FM performance right – Pandora and its allies proposed a pure 85% artist pay cut in the IRFA bill. Everyone in the music community could see that was unfair.
An Unprecedented Coalition
The result was an unprecedented outpouring of opposition from all quarters of the music community. Over 130 artists, from the biggest superstars to ordinary working musicians, signed an open letter pleading with Pandora to “work this out as partners and continue to bring fans the great musical experience they rightly expect.”
Leaders in the music community, like Ray Hair of the American Federation of Musicians and artists like Martha Reeves, took to the opinion pages to make our case. David Lowery of the Trichordist blog spoke clearly, truthfully, and relentlessly to the music community about the devastating effect this bill would have.
We unleashed a social media blizzard, doubling our twitter following, doubling it again, then again, well into the tens of thousands. From world famous performers to thousands of bar bands and DJs, and countless fans who appreciate music creators, social media allowed us to connect and amplify our voices – and to get each others’ backs when Big Radio returned fire of its own.
And then in June 2013, in a seminal moment, the legendary Pink Floyd stood up and said “enough” – decrying “Pandora’s Internet Radio Royalty Rip Off” in USA Today and writing that “everyone deserves the right to be paid a fair market rate for their work.” Pink Floyd in turn inspired more and more people to get involved, like Professor Michael Johnson of the Berklee College of Music, who wrote “Pink Floyd may be able to tough out the recent drought in the music industry, but how will my students, who spend four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars learning their craft, survive in the current climate? And many of my colleagues on the front lines, who are not famous but have managed to carve out a living as musicians over the years, are now suffering as well.”
Ultimately, this united musical community, from big name artists to working musicians to fans around the country to their advocates here in Washington DC, was too much. The IRFA bill faded away – for now at least – leaving a more united, more experienced, and more powerful music community in its wake. We should feel empowered that there are more people in the world making great music and appreciating it, than people who seek to exploit music creators.