Shadowproof

Big Media Looks to Government for Ticket on Gravy Train

Atrios:

Ultimately the anti-Google and anti-blogger stuff isn’t about making bloggers stop linking or Google stop indexing, it’s a fantasy that somehow newspapers have some right to make money off of what Google and bloggers do.

Substantively, yes that is what they’re saying, but it isn’t about "rights." As Markos notes, all these organizations have to do is add "disallow" tags and the Google spiders won’t index their sites, but that’s not what they want. They see that Google has a profit center tangentially related to their product, and after having spent nearly a decade avoiding any kind of smart or reasonable business plan to enter the online world, they now want the government to execute a wealth transfer from Google to them. Because that’s just how it works.

Last week, the House passed the Performance Rights Act under similar circumstances. Radio stations in the US have never paid performance fees — rather, they pay flat fees to performance rights societies like ASCAP and BMI who track usage and are supposed to distribute it equitably to copyright holders (i.e., songwriters). Which is a fancy way of saying that if KJR played Mickey Dolenz singing "Last Train to Clarksville," KRJ paid a fee to ASCAP or BMI who paid Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart who wrote the song — Mickey Dolenz was SOL, and only got whatever he’d been paid to record the song originally.

So now, the RIAA has railroaded Congress into passing legislation requiring radio stations to pay performance licenses, too. Out of deep concern for poor performers like Mickey Dolenz:

Rep. Mike Quigly (D-Ill.), the latest arrival to the House, praised performers "who create, from nothing, art. I guarantee you it is worth more than nothing." He agreed that radio’s promotional value is worth something but couldn’t put a value figure on it.

That’s so touching. Really, it’s just beautiful. I’m so moved. It’s hard to put a value figure on it, but let’s try. How about nothing? Here’s the bill:

A featured recording artist who performs on a sound recording that has been licensed for public performance by means of a digital audio transmission shall be entitled to receive payments from the copyright owner of the sound recording in accordance with the terms of the artist’s contract.

So, Mickey Dolenz is still dependent on the kindness of the record companies to get paid for his performance, thank you Congress, which means exactly what you think it does — Mickey doesn’t get shit. And how about those hard working background vocalists and non-featured musicians?

[T]he copyright owner shall deposit 1 percent of the receipts from the license with the American Federation of Musicians and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Intellectual Property Rights Distribution Fund (or any successor entity) (in this subparagraph referred to as the ‘Fund’) to be distributed to nonfeatured performers who have performed on sound recordings.

One percent. That’s all the record companies are required to pay out to performers. One percent. It’s not structured like nonprofits ASCAP and BMI, which retain only administrative costs and distribute the rest to songwriters (ASCAP claims 86 cents out of every dollar collected goes to songwriters). It’s just a wealth transfer to record companies in a year when radio advertising revenues are taking a huge hit.

Why? Because the RIAA kicked the shit out of the NAB, that’s why. It has nothing to do with right or wrong or what’s good for anybody, they just had more muscle and knew how to apply money in the right places. The entertainment companies are putting the screws to Feinstein right now, who will apparently try to move the bill in the Senate by tacking it on to the appropriations bill. And that will be that.

Pimco’s Bill Gross recently made headlines when he announced that the business plan of the world’s biggest bond fund was "shake hands with Uncle Sam," because that’s where all the money is going to be coming from. Raise your hand if you think the banks are going to continue to generate 41% of GDP. Probably not. So, anyone who wants to make money in this economy will get thee to Washington, hire thee a lobbyist or two and start shaking down Congress.

Because if you compare the growth of audio to online audience in 2008, there’s no way anybody is going to be able to resist that kind of big juicy revenue pie:

Google is now paying AP an undisclosed fee for its content, but all that means is that other carnivores like Newscorp and Hearst and Forbes want theirs. And they’ll gladly dispatch lawyers like Mr. Victoria Toensig to the pages of the Washington Post, who would also like to have a chunk of Google revenue thank you very much, to make a few threats and concoct some threadbare legal arguments to hide behind.

But mostly, they just really, really want to be the RIAA. And their chances of success are probably pretty good.

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