Recording Industry Calls Radio 'A Kind Of Piracy'

from the and-mocks-broadcasters dept

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.

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Companies: musicfirst, nab, riaa

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Comments on “Recording Industry Calls Radio 'A Kind Of Piracy'”

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yo ho ho.... says:

let’s not give the RIAA or any other media / content producing outlet coverage here anymore… they are just not worth it.

It’s always the same story — they try to bully and “lawyer: their will onto every user of their content… and squeeze every last penny, legitimate or not, from anyone not able to stand up to them.

Let’s focus on other issues for a change — this is just getting tedious… and pathetic.

Anonymous Coward says:

redistribution of wealth

You got to be kidding. Seriously? So the RIAA wants to shut down the FM dial? Wow.

Here’s a few questions:
How much of that Blank Media Tax made it’s way to the artists?
How much of the various settlement moneys made it’s way to the artists?

If anything at all, the “Back In The U.S.S.R.” Song is quite fitting, for as you know, the basis of Marxism is creation of two economic classes:

+ Those who exploit (own the means of production)
+ And those who are exploited (who have to work for the owners)

As for the collected settlement and tax revenues, Yes, It’s not difficult to see it being distributed among the former.

Oh Boy! (profile) says:

Re: redistribution of wealth

“Back In The USSR” was written and performed both as a riff on and parody of surf music.

That is had any political commentary at all is doubtful given the primary songwriter is Paul McCartney who, when he’s being political, is very in your face about it. John Lennon could be as well though often he was more subtle “Come Together” or “Imagine”.

As has been noted Marx and Engels are spinning in their graves from what you said about Marxism.

The USSR being referred to in the song is more Stalinism which, come to think of it, seems to be where the RIAA gets a lot of its ideas from.



From The Left says:

What morons!

Actually I kind of like the idea that they think that radio is a form of piracy. Let them pursue that and shutdown radio stations which would in turn kill the RIAA because they control what gets played anyways so no more income for them and no more crappy music shoved down our throats on fm stations.

sonofdot says:

Re: What morons!

I agree. If I don’t hear the songs on the radio for free, how are people ever going to know about any new music? Does the RIAA think we’ll just go to Walmart (or iTunes, or where ever) and buy CDs, with songs we’ve never heard from bands we’ve never heard of? If the RIAA is trying to destroy its only real marketing mechanism, in the hopes of completely killing its business, then that’s sheer genius!

Justin Ried (user link) says:

They say piracy, I say free advertising

That’s just greedy. A few years ago, the Finnish supreme court ruled that Taxis who play music in their cabs – ostensibly for the benefit of their customers – will be forced to pay royalties for “public performances” to the Finnish recording industry association (Teosto).

So let’s see here… radio stations are paying for the right to play music, while listeners are paying for the right to listen to it. What a racket!

Skippy T. Mut says:

Here's a question...

Did the RIAA pay any royalties to the artists whos songs they used to mock the NAB? I’m sure Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and the members of the Steve Miller Band would want to get paid for being pawns in the RIAA’s pathetic little game. (I hope I don’t get sued for using their names in this post!)

Kevin says:

A little sanity

I’m no fan of the RIAA, but I find the logic in the author’s arguments lacking.

1. A tax is something the government takes from us, in order to fund things. Just because the RIAA is asking the government to set the rule does not make it a tax, any more than fees paid by cable subscribers to cable companies are taxes just because the government sets, or at least approves, the rates. What is being proposed is a fee. I may be a bad idea, but it’s a fee. Calling it a tax makes NAB look silly.

2. Piracy (in it’s digital form) is basically taking something that is not yours and redistributing it for (monetary) gain. Just because radio may provide useful advertising for the artist/label does not change the fact the radio station is getting paid by advertisers but is not paying the artists. A better argument is that since the radio stations are paying the label and the songwriter, it’s up to the label to pay the artist according to whatever agreement they have.

I suppose whether it is really piracy though, depends on the agreement between the artists, radio stations, and record labels. *Someone* should be paying the artists, and it sounds like no one really wants to. The radio stations claim the artists are getting free advertising, and the RIAA would rather bully a bunch of helpless grannies than pay artists what they are due.

As usual, the artists lose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A little sanity

I can’t argue the fee/tax point (it doesn’t matter much either way), but if you think ‘piracy’ requiires some sort of monetary gain then you’re looking at things cross-eyed. How does anyone sharing music on Limewire of BitTorrent make money? Those are two of the largest dens of ‘piracy’ around, and most sharers don’t ‘get’ anything at all, certainly not money.

Sailor Ripley says:

Re: A little sanity

the tax/fee thing…yeah, that really is worth arguing over *rolls eyes*

as for your second point…

your definition is seriously lacking…all those warez release groups, people using p2p or other software, etc do not get a monetary or other gain from sharing/redistributing content. Even though, with a fair amount of goodwill, one could argue that redistributing something in the hopes others will redistribute something you want is a potential gain, let’s be honest, it would be a huge anti-climax that that is the best example you can come up with for your quite general and bold statement about piracy and (monetary) gain…And the (relative) few pirates that do try to sell pirated content, well, they simply just don’t justify your definition…

As to the radio station not paying artists…

Why should they have to? Why should radio stations have to pay anyone? In fact, why should anybody have to pay anything (besides the purchase of the content) for any commercial use of music, barring reproduction and sale?

Say I have a bar and I play music (and of course I have to pay for that “privilege”): unless I would play the music of a local band (who I could instead hire to perform), what “loss” would there be for a content creator because I play his music? U2 will never perform in my bar, nor will anybody bootleg the music I play, nor will anybody ever say: nah, I’m not buying that U2 CD, I’ll just go to Bar X and listen to it…

My playing music clearly is commercial use and playing the music is commercially valuable to me since it adds to the atmosphere of my bar and I will attract more people and sell more drinks/food. But there’s no loss to the content creator, nor do I see any reason why he/she should be entitled to anything for my use of their music.
In fact, if anything, some of my customers might come in contact with music they don’t know, like it and go out and buy CDs, concert tickets,…

So tell me, why should someone compensate “the industry” for doing something commercially valuable with their content in pretty much any scenario (like the one above) where the commercial activity is not duplicating said content and selling those duplicates?

Radio stations are no different: it is commercially valuable to them to play music, but radio stations playing an artist’s music is not going to cost him/her anything, nobody, especially in this day and age, is going to bootleg a song from the radio (in fact, the exposure might result in the sale of more copies of his/her content).

So why should I as a bar owner, or radio stations, or those cab drivers have to pay (beyond the purchase price of the CD) to play music, regardless of whether they bought CDs and play those or by put on the radio?

no matter how many patents the John Deere company might have on a revolutionary new lawnmower, once I buy it, they have no right to a cut of any commercial use I choose to engage in with their product, like starting my own landscaping/yard maintenance business…even though John Deere is more likely to generate less revenue (because the people whose lawn I mow will likely not buy a lawnmower) as a direct result of my commercial use of their “content” than any audio content creator (or, more accurately, the record companies) would because I play their music in my bar.

So why exactly should music, or content creators in general, get an exception to this very common and accepted system and get anything from an indirect commercial use of their content/product?

John (profile) says:

Oh no

If radio stations stop playing RIAA backed songs, how will the endless “Mix” stations survive? How else will I hear the latest Disney-pop song 5 times in one day, despite the station’s claim of a “no repeat workday”? (As an aside, is there so little music in their approved playlist that radio stations actually have to promote the fact that they don’t play the same song twice??)

The main question is this: how will the latest boy band or Brittney Spears-wannabe get airplay without the RIAA forcing the songs onto radios?

I vote to let the NAB reject the RIAA’s offer and see how long the RIAA lasts. How long will it take for artists to realize that their songs aren’t being played because NAB radio stations won’t play RIAA songs.

byron from the uncle deercamp show (user link) says:

Clash of the Titans

The RIAA have been ripping us small artist off for years Steve and I pay huge Tax’s to have the uncle deer camp show on Live 365 and get nothing for it from the RIAA. We use no one else’s material than our own. Yet we pay “fees” to the RIAA. We are recognized by as an independent but the RIAA makes us pay or we get the hose. We all need to give the RIAA and the folks they represent hose because sadly that’s the only thing that will bring down a NAZI institution. At least I can’t think of a less American institution still in existence than the RIAA . PS happy 4th of July all.

deadzone (profile) says:

You know

At this point I am of the opinion that we just let the RIAA have whatever they want. My theory is that it will just lead to a much quicker demise of the RIAA as they would be able to experience directly the horrible decisions, positions, and ideas that they continuously trot out in the name of saving the “Music”.

Why should we continue to fight them if they willfully choose to be this stupid and ignorant? They really make our job easy since they can’t seem to go more than a day or two without a new, even crazier position, than the previous one.

I mean, how seriously out of touch are these people to decry Radio as a form of “Indirect Piracy”?! The freaking radio is a FREE medium of advertising for their crappy works that they call music! I just cannot wrap my mind around their logic. What are they thinking? What could their justifications really be for taking this position? Is it seriously these transparent and utterly foolish talking points that they give in the original article?! Honestly, how much money has the RIAA made from Radio over the years? Tens of billions? Hundreds of billions?

How in the hell do they propose to get new music out there? By having the Radio Stations all pay royalties? LUDICROUS! Are they going to come up with their own way? Yeah, we see how well that has worked so far for digital downloads – NEXT. It’s just so stupid, help me understand what the hell the RIAA is thinking, it seems so batshit insane, I must be missing something.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You know

The only problem with that might be that as their revenue stream starts to dry up they’ll use that as ‘proof’ that piracy is killing the industry, and isnt that a bad thing, and we should get the government to help.. basically everything they’ve been saying so far but with numbers to back them up.

Anonymous Coward says:

The NAB could have a lot of fun with this. A few companies control a lot of the radio stations in the USA. Clear Channel and other could simply refuse to play any new music offered by the recording industry – and give extra air play to independent acts without ridiculous royalty demands. I think it would take all of month for the labels to order the RIAA to back off.

James says:


This is so fk’n funny… they of course, deserve each other.

But, all the NAB needs to do is say fine… tax us but its going to cost you $1 (per play) to play any song on the radio that isn’t in the public domain or freely licensed for play by the artist… would you like that invoice per day or all at the end of the month?

Sevenof9FL (profile) says:

I Agree With From The Left

Let the RIAA and the NAB kill each other, we’d all be better off in the long run. Here in South Florida, all the stations have a very short playlist of labels they play, hence my radio stays shut off 99% of the time – and that practice cuts across all music genres – rock has their 90 minute playlist, country has theirs, rap, hip-hop – it’s the same over and over depending on your dial. Nothing new, fresh, interesting or independant dares to cross the airwaves.

Let them both crash and burn in their stupidity; it’s time for someone to invent a new model.

Or, rather, the new model is here, it needs to stop being stifled.

bikey (profile) says:


Agree completely, ‘business models’ are becoming increasingly ridiculous. As far as payola argument goes, though, this turnabout is not confined to radio. Music videos were first seen as promoting artists until the industry began to realize they could collect for their use as programming rather than pay to have them shown and the rest is history. Similarly with ‘personality rights’. People used to hire PR people to get there name and image out there. Now name and image, like everything else, are commodities to be packaged and sold, and ‘pirated’.

Jerry Leichter (profile) says:

Understanding history

It helps to understand the history here. When radio was first developing, the copyright holders (a very complex thing for recorded music, since have at least the composer, the performers, and the record company all with various interlocking rights) refused to license the use of their materials on radio at all. They were concerned, just as today, with loss of revenue. Since at that time there had never been a broadcast medium, no one really knew what the effects might be, and the concern was reasonable.

Reasonable or not, the copyright holders were within their rights in refusing radio access to their recordings. On the other hand, there was clearly a public interest in allowing the new medium of radio to provide broad access to recorded music.

The conflict inevitably went to Congress, and was argued out by lobbyists on the two sides. The result was a grand compromise: Holders of rights in recorded material cannot refuse to license that material to radio stations. To prevent them from setting absurdly high prices, Congress actually established a federal Copyright Licensing Board (part of the Library of Congress) to establish maximum prices. Remember the great controversy a couple of months back about greatly increased licensing fees for internet radio stations? The same Copyright Licensing Board was involved here as well.

There are other compulsory licenses as well. For example, radio and TV stations are required to license their shows to cable providers.

So, absurd as the whole business with herring may sound, this is an area that’s been a matter of public, not individual, choice for decades. If you look at it abstractly, it certainly doesn’t seem right that the record companies and the composers are entitled to a cut from radio stations, but the performers are not. It’s likely this reflects the political power of those three groups back when the original laws were passed. Performers were left to try to cut a deal for a share of the radio profits with their own record companies. We all know where the power in those negotiations lies for all but the most successful performers.

Of course, the RIAA is hardly a representative of the performers! They’re using a plausible-sounding argument to advance their own position, as to this day there really isn’t an organization representing “performers”, to the best of my knowledge. My guess would be that there has actually been a broad agreement in the industry for years about the (contractual) cut paid to performers – but with the decline in record sales revenues, the record companies are looking for a way to push that cost off on someone – anyone – else.
— Jerry

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Understanding history

There’s one very good reason that artists/peformers themselves were left out of the deal.

It’s because both radio (at the time) and the artists were more interested in live performance.

Both radio and the recording industry were fairly new and artists had every reason to distrust the recording industry, as they still do.

The solution? Live broadcast performances. Listeners preferred it too as radio fidelity in those days was far better than anything the recording industry could accomplish with 78s.

Just have a look at records from the 30s, 40s and very early 50s and you’ll see a note on them that they recordings are not licensed for broadcast.

That disappeared in the 50s when it became apparent, with the appearance of LPs that record fidelity was as good or better than radio.

Of course, along came rock’n’roll from what were independent labels like Sun and the rest, as they say, is payola history that continues to this day.

The major flaw in the argument supporting the RIAA in anything to do with “piracy” is that they give a fetid dingo’s kidneys about the artist/performer. They don’t, never have and never will.

(Previous paragraph with due apologies to Douglas Adams.)



Twinrova says:

*shakes head to reply to the subject at hand*

Another RIAA story discussing how it’s hurting itself while trying to hold on to old business models (let’s not forget how another blog story indicated these “managers” still need to be in place).

I believe it was 1987 when I turned off my radio for good. With the tape/CD players available, it was much easier for me to create my own mixes and play what I wanted to hear, not what some radio station thinks I want to hear (50x per day).

Since then, I’ve loved music. I actually went out and purchased tapes/CDs just to increase my mix. Ah, those were the days.

When the MP3 was introduced, I was skeptic it would take off, but once the players came out, I knew it was here to stay (sorry, Sony, for your mini-disc fiasco).

What was cool was the availability of MP3 music all over the web! I downloaded music from bands I’ve never heard of (well, some turned out to have been “radio stars”, but how the hell would I know this? radio=dead).

Then a dark cloud appeared and my free music channels all started shutting down one-by-one because some tightwads thought all this sharing was illegal.

Now, if I want to get music, I’ve got two choices:
1) Pay for the bands I’ve never heard of and take a damn chance their music is good.

2) Download artists who offer their music for free, but realize most music is done using garage acoustics.

Not much left for me, is there. My final choice was to say the hell with music in general. I’ve got my few collection CDs that can last me a very long time, but what’s really bad are the artists who deserve my cash.

Those .99 cent websites don’t pay the artists. I’m sure the writers and publishers deserve some money, but shouldn’t the artists get the majority of it given they’re the ones making the content desirable? Correct me if I’m wrong here, but a song by Britney Spears probably wouldn’t be as desirable if sung by Steve Tyler (especially if he dons the schoolgirl outfit).

Since we’re the ones who place a value on the content, shouldn’t it be us who dictates what we should pay?

I think many of you need to realize that you’re doing nothing but fueling this business by purchasing MP3s via these 99 cent websites. Stop it. Stop buying CDs. Stop buying players. Make the sacrifice and stick with what you have for a few years.

Because I absolutely guarantee if the public quits buying media (thus, supporting the business model), these companies will be forced to change their business model to get you to return.

But instead, we continue to see blogs like this posted all over the internet, downloading continues (regardless if you pay or not, you’re still supporting the current model), and every day, more people are swallowed up in this whole crap while the good consumers are the ones paying for it.

You all whine and bitch what RIAA’s doing but I find it laughable none of you do nothing but support it.

Thus, your opinions on this site (and any other) are meaningless until you start making a stand. Do you really think RIAA comes here to READ what you have to say?

Note: Remember the recent gaming company who stated you had to “register” every so often to prevent piracy? You do realize it was the notion of lost game sales that forced them to rid the registration process, right?

I wonder what would happen if people did this to the music and movie industry?

*snicker* 🙂

Oh, wait. Nevermind. I’m giving too much credit to the average consumer.

We’re boned. I guess we’ll continue reading stories like this one.

NEWS BREAK: Hmmm, seems new songs are appearing on artists websites for free! I wonder if Blondie will get back together and do this for those who like the band instead of paying WalAmApp’s website.

Sara (user link) says:

It's all because of a little known RIAA secret.

A few years ago, the recording industry decided on the idea that radio stations should start broadcasting a digital version along with the normal analog signals. The idea being that it would result in increased listeners and more money for them in the long run. (i.e. typical RIAA greed).

They decided on a format called HD Radio that iBiquity had developed, and in 2002 they pressured the FCC to declare it the ONLY standard for digital radio broadcasts in the USA.

But, they overlooked one very important aspect: Current laws protect the public’s right to record radio station broadcasts that use public airwaves for personal use. Not a very big deal when you are dealing with analog AM/FM since the sound quality simply did not justify it, and separating the actual songs from the commercials and talk was a very time consuming task.?

With HD Radio the sound quality exceeds anything you are going to get on iTunes and is for most quite
indistinguishable from the original CD. The title and artist info is broadcast along with the digital sound, so a computer could effectively record the individual songs together with this information if it could access it. They did attempt to prevent this from happening, which is why you cannot buy an HD Radio internal card or USB tuner for your PC.

Problem is, somebody finally figured out a way to interface certain types of HD Radio receivers to a PC, and record the songs as individual high bitrate mp3’s. The result is some very paranoid RIAA folks.
Their only recourse is to declare that the very medium they used to make all sorts of money on before is now pirating their music.

Greg says:

Terrestrial radio is the only music platform that doesn’t pay performers. You could have made the argument that airplay more than made up for not paying performance royalties back when it was the only game in town. But now it seems like a behemoth industry with bulging lobbying muscles is just trying to preserve its exceptionalism, and after years of successfully fending off royalties, they’re finally crumbling as people lament why webcasters should pay exorbitant rates when they pay nothing. For a guy following everything tech, Mike, I’m surprised you have been taken hook, line and sinker for the NAB herring (sorry to invoke the musicFIRST gimmick).

kat says:


First or all, don’t you want people to hear your songs so perhaps they will, oh I don’t know, buy your CD?? Perhaps the singers should pay the DJ’s for the free advertising. Also, just because you sang the song like 30 years ago doesn’t oblige the rest of us to continue paying for it. I don’t have to pay the factory that made my dinner table every time I sit down to use it. What an arrogant and somehow ignorant way of looking at things. They made their money, and all they want is more. The most sickening part of it is that they call themselves artists while just behaving like capitalistic indstrialists. You act like you just want to connect with people through your music and you sing to make life more enjoyable for others. Then you turn around and just try to make yourselves even more rich. You can keep your songs and sing them to yourselves because if that is the extent to which you care about connecting with others, they are meaningless anyway!!!!

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