Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Low power radio bill drops as Clear Channel causes more static

There were two very interesting -- but related -- developments on the radio front today. First, Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Lee Terry (R-Nebraska) announced this morning at a teleconference they would introduce a bill that would clear the way for the creation of low power FM radio stations in urban areas.

Given the shrinking playlists and bland programming brought about by radio consolidation over the last decade, low power FM has the potential to create radio that is truly radio: local voices, cutting edge music and genres that are not regularly heard on commercial radio (i.e. jazz and bluegrass).

Or as Indigo Girl Emily Saliers put it on the teleconference:

"This about the airwaves belonging to the American public," Saliers said. "This is a way to realize the beauty and the differences. This is a way for communities to express themselves."

What's most exciting is that the bill has a good chance of passing. The National Association of Broadcasters had argued (in opposing similar bills in the past) that low power stations would interfere with full power stations next door on the dial. That argument, however, has been demolished by a congressional commissioned study. Here's a summary.

An MP3 of the press conference can be found here.

The other bit of news is not so good, and involves Clear Channel.

You remember several years ago, in 2005, former Attorney General, now New York Governor, Eliot Spitzer caught several major labels and major radio companies with hands in each others cookie jars engaging in payola -- receiving payments from record companies to play certain records?* Sure you do, his investigation garnered national headlines and resulted in fines and penalties from several major labels that exceeded $30 million.

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission joined the fight announcing a settlement with Clear Channel and three other major radio networks after an investigation into the same payola allegations raised by Spitzer’s investigation.

As part of the settlement with the FCC, the radio networks agreed, among other conditions, to air 4,200 hours of local and independent music on their stations. This meant that the talented artists that had long been excluded from the airwaves in favor of payola driven play lists were finally getting a small bone.

(FMC never understood the logic that playing popular indie bands like the Shins and Arcade Fire on the radio was any kind of penalty…but heck, 4,200 hours of good music on the radio is better than none so we weren’t complaining.)

It turns out, we should have been. Recent revelations show that Clear Channel has decided to use it’s olive branch as a cudgel to force local and independent artists to give up hard won performance royalties as a condition for consideration for play. (Hear the story on NPR: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11250011).

Per the settlement, the broadcaster set up an online application for local and independent artists to submit their music for airplay on each of its stations. The applications are on a web page attached to each Clear Channel station web site (i.e., www.dc101.com/cc-common/artist_submission.)

The application requires the artist to approve a licensing agreement that (oops) does away with his or her digital performance right. In other words, Clear Channel is asking the artists to sign away their right to get paid a royalty just to allow Clear Channel to consider playing their music.

The move also flies in the face of the "Rules of Engagement" the broadcasters agreed to as part of the payola settlement, which include the following provision: "Radio shall not ask for or expect, either directly or indirectly, any quid pro quo to play music."

How is Clear Channel showing contrition for allegedly engaging in an illegal practice?

It isn't.

“This is outrageous,” said FMC Executive Director Jenny Toomey. “This is like the fox getting caught in the hen house a second time and arguing that he shouldn’t get in trouble because he was leaving the hens alone…he was just eating all their eggs.”

A further irony is that Clear Channel’s move to require artists to sign away their performance rights is kind of redundant. In the United States, the commercial broadcasters have managed to avoid paying performance royalties for over the air broadcast of music. This means that when a song is played on the radio, only the songwriter is paid whereas in 75 other countries both the songwriter and the performer are paid.

More outrageously, in 1995, when the Digital Performance Act was passed establishing a performance royalty for digital radio The National Association of Broadcasters, the lobby group for the radio companies, successfully negotiated an exemption from having to pay it on H.D. radio streams. That’s right, the richest, largest and most powerful broadcasters -- including Clear Channel -- secured an exemption for themselves. Other digital broadcasters such as Live365, Sirius and XM pay the royalty.

You may wonder why Clear Channel is asking artists to sign away rights they normally don’t have to pay because of their already negotiated exemptions. Well it may just be because Clear Channel’s move comes as strong momentum is developing in the artist community to demand that radio broadcasters come in line with the rest of the world and finally pay a public performance royalty for terrestrial and digital radio.

The effort to extend the public performance right to over the air broadcasts is going to be a huge struggle, but there is broad consensus in both the artist and the technology communities that the digital performance exemption that the broadcasters enjoy is patently unfair. In other words, if the digital performance right exists, everyone should pay it, particularly the wealthy broadcasters.

Forcing artists to sign away their rights in an application document is just one of the many ways that Clear Channel is helping the artist community demonstrate just how greedy big radio has become.

Now why is it that you can’t afford a performance right again?


*FMC has long fought to rid the airwaves of payola. Our recent study “False Premises, False Promises” (www.futureofmusic.org/research/radiostudy06.cfm) documents the role that radio consolidation has played in concentrating radio access into the hands of a very few gatekeepers leaving it vulnerable to financial influence. In this study we identified Clear Channel as the largest and most influential gatekeeper with hundreds of radio stations under their control.


Anonymous said...

Ummm, excuse me, but if Clear Channel is only "asking artists to sign away rights they normally don’t have to pay because of their already negotiated exemptions" then... what exactly is the issue here? Your communications on this sound like Clear Channel is asking artists to confirm that Clear Channel doesn't have to pay what Clear Channel already doesn't have to pay. So, are they really taking anything away from these artists?

Sorry, but, I don't quite get your point. I'd sure like to have this whole hoo-haw clarified.

Anonymous said...

A reply submitted by Jimmie Vestal, a Pinellas Park, Florida songwriter and indie artist -

Clear Channel WANTS MORE than just the cancelling of digital performance rights - - - they also want your copyrights and complete ownership of your intellectual property.

A Tampa, Florida Clear Channel radio station desires to set up a social "MySpace" style networking page on their website.

Here was their e-mail to get subscribers to join up:

----Original Message Follows----
From: OnLinePrizePig@clearchannel.com
Subject: Dish the Dirt in the PigPen
Date: 15 May 2007 19:20:09 -0000

This is a recurring mailing. You are a registered member at our site

The mailing address for our business is: 4002 Gandy Blvd.,
Tampa, FL. 33611

Pig Pen – 93 3 FM FLZ

Tired of MYSPACE?

Are you sick of drowning in the sea of people on MySpace? Every since it got so big, it’s been hard to get noticed and network
With people in our area. That’s why we need your help building
THE PIG PEN! It’s a place for you to dish the dirt with local
people just like you.

And, it’s radio’s FIRST social network! Here are just some of the
Cool features:

-Listen to 933FLZ online and chat live with our DJ’s at the same time
-Chat with other members online
-Share your favorite photos and videos
-Create your own profile and make it look however you want
-Post personal blogs and yourt houghts on show topics
-Start your own Pig Pen group
-Make new friends that actually live around here

Before you get started, it’s important you know that The Pig Pen is Still a BETA. That means that it’s so new that there are still a few bugs)

Please forward those to “THE PROGRAM DIRECTOR” (his name is Tommy) and we’ll get them fixed as quickily as possible.

Tommy will be one of your first friends along with the entire 933FLZ airstaff after you join. So what are you waiting for? SIGN UP TODAY

Start creating your Pig Pen now and get to know some cool new people from right here in tampa!

Here was my reply to them:

E-mailed May 15, 207

Tommy C----, Program Director

Thank you for the special e-mail invitation to join the Beta testing stage of The Pig Pen.

I would have enjoyed joining, testing this out, making comments, and e-mailing you all the bugs I come across.

There is one big problem with your station’s affiliation with Clear Channel. The Pig Pen would be giving all your members the “royal shaft”!

Some of us FLZ listeners are very professional creative people who compose original songs, videos, articles, screenplays, e-books, jokes, and other intellectual property. We take a break here at FLZ to party, get un-stressed, and take a vacation from our endeavors.

The special “royal shaft” will be given to all Pig Pen members who decide to sign up and upload photos, videos, and perhaps original songs, to their Pig Pen pages!

Even though we’ve already received dated copyright registrations for our own creations, , 933 FLZ, (along with owner, Clear Channel) claim that they will now OWN ALL THESE RIGHTS FOR THEMSELVES!

Are you aware of the TERMS OF USE -INTERACTIVE SERVICE ADDITIONAL TERMS - found at http://www.933flz.com/cc-common/tou.html#.

Read it and think again about being a willing part of this:
“Unless otherwise provided, ALL POSTINGS to the Clear Channel Website automatically and immediately BECOME THE PROPERTY OF CLEAR CHANNEL without any obligation of confidentiality.

Clear Channel shall be entitled to USE THE MATERIAL FOR ANY TYPE OF USE FOREVER including in any media whether now known or later devised.

If any court determines that Clear Channel does not retain exclusive ownership of any posting, then you hereby expressly GRANT to Clear Channel a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right to use, reproduce, adapt, modify, publish, edit, translate, perform, transmit, sell, sublicense or otherwise distribute and display the Posting for any reason, including for promotional and advertising purposes, alone or as a part of other works in any form, medium or technology now known or later developed, and you waive all moral rights in all such postings”.
Now it ’time to see if you and 933FLZ have the right stuff!

Inform you listeners, and all potential Pig Pen members, about the TERMS OF USE.

A registered member of 933 flz,
Jimmie Vestal

Here was the Program Director's response to me:

----Original Message Follows----
From: C----,Tommy
To: Jimmie Vestal
Subject: RE: Pig Pen Signup
Date: Wed, 16 May 2007 08:43:13 -0500

Hey Jimmie -

First, thank you for listening to 933FLZ and checking out The Pig Pen. We must include those terms in order to protect ourselves legally. They are in no way meant to give our listeners (and online users) the "royal shaft."

That being said, if you don't agree with them, we understand if you chose to not participate in our social network. That's why we make them available for people to read prior to joining.

Again, thanks for listening! Your feedback IS important to me and I appreciate and respect both the positive and the negative feedback given by our audience.

A copy of this exchange is being placed in the WFLZ Public File, per FCC requirements.

Tommy C----
Program Director
WFLZ-FM | Tampa, FL

Jay said...

good share!!!!!!!!!!