It would appear that the recording industry now likes to call any sort of business model it doesn't like "piracy." At least that's the only explanation I can come up with in its latest battle, where it has referred to traditional radio as "a form of piracy."
It's almost too bizarre to be true, and that's before we even explain how this involves a (literal) can of herring.
It's difficult to pick a side to cheer for in a dispute between the RIAA and the NAB -- as we're talking about two organizations with a history of saying the most outrageously incorrect things in misguided attempts to "protect" the industries they represent (which almost always ends up backfiring and hurting the industry). However, in the latest battle between the two, it seems pretty clear that it's the RIAA that's being more ridiculous. This is the latest skirmish in the battle that the RIAA started last year, in trying to get radio stations to pay royalties
to musicians. If you're not familiar with the details, as it stands now, radio stations have to pay royalties only to songwriters and publishers for the music they play. The musicians themselves don't get royalties, with the (very reasonable) explanation that having songs on the radio acts as a strong promotion for the musicians. This explanation is supported by the history of radio, in which "payola" has almost always played a large role. The record labels have always paid the radio stations to play their bands -- a rather overt admission that radio helps promote new artists.
But with the recording industry confused and struggling to adopt new business models, it wants to force radio stations to pay it, rather than the other way around. What's funny is that, normally, it's the party that has more leverage that gets to demand payment. Yet, here we have a case where it's the weakest party demanding payment because
it's so weak. Despite all those years of payola as proof that radio is a promotional vehicle, the RIAA actually tried to put out a totally bogus study claiming that radio play decreased
the demand for recorded music. Apparently, that wasn't convincing enough, so now it's claiming that radio is actually a "form of piracy."
To make this even more ridiculous, this group called musicFirst, representing the recording industry, sent the NAB a can of herring (yes, an actual can of herring), a dictionary and some free songs in an attempt to mock the group. The herring was supposed to suggest that the radio stations' argument is a "red herring" (very clever, guys). The dictionary was so that the NAB could supposedly understand the difference between "fees" and "taxes" -- since the NAB refers to the move to get radio stations to pay musicians as a "tax," while the RIAA would prefer to think of it as a "fee." As for the digital songs, they were all mocking titles: "Take the Money and Run" by the Steve Miller Band; "Pay me My Money Down" by Bruce Springsteen; "Back In the U.S.S.R" by Paul McCartney and "A Change Would Do You Good" by Sheryl Crow.
Of course, the recording industry is wrong on just about all of this. The idea that radio is a form of piracy is simply laughable. We've already pointed to the industry's own proof (payola) that radio helps promote artists. As for the definitional difference between fees and taxes, fees are agreed upon between two parties. A tax is a fee required by the government. Since the recording industry is asking the government to set this new rule, it would seem that the NAB is correct again that this would represent a tax, rather than a fee.