Rep. Conyers Compares Lack Of A Performance Right Tax To Slavery

from the sing-along-now dept

We thought it was crazy enough when an RIAA-organized lobbying group called radio “a form of piracy” because it didn’t pay musicians to promote their songs. But it appears that Rep. John Conyers, one of the biggest backers of forcing radio stations to pay an additional tax to help promote music, has taken it a step further. Via Copycense we learn that at an event put on by recording industry lobbyists, Conyers decided to compare the lack of a performance right mandatory fee for radio stations to slavery and indentured servitude. Seriously:

“In 1865, slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment. No more free labor,” Conyers said. “It abolished at the same time involuntary servitude. What does that have to do with what we’re here for today? Well, when you tell somebody that you’re benefiting from their work product but there’s no avenue for compensation, it kind of harkens back to that great problem.”

What an incredibly shameful thing to say. Beyond making the absolutely bizarre and ridiculous connection between the failure of one giant industry to force another big industry to hand over a chunk of cash (most of which never will be seen by any musicians), it ignores basic economics. Historically, the money has flowed the other way. For decades, record labels and promoters have used forms of payola to pay radio stations to play certain musicians. Why? Because they clearly knew that they got a ton of value out of those songs being promoted on the air. Songs on the radio are advertisements. What kind of industry gets Congress to force broadcasters to pay to run their advertisements — and then has the gall to have an elected official claim that not paying to play these ads are the equivalent of indentured servitude?

Of course, Conyers knows all about Payola. Back in 2002, he was the one who called for payola hearings on Capitol Hill. So how is it that he suddenly thinks that money not going the other way is somehow “no avenue for compensation”? He’s being blatantly intellectually dishonest here. Is it worth mentioning that in the last election the two largest contributors to his campaign were lawyers and the Music/Movie/TV industry?

The performance right tax is not about “indentured servitude.” It’s not even about people benefiting from a product where “there’s no avenue for compensation.” Quite the opposite. Getting your music on the radio is a huge challenge for most artists, and if you can get your music heard that way, it’s still a huge boost to a musician’s career. Does Conyers think that when there’s a popular commercial on TV that people want to see that the makers of that commercial are “slaves” because they’re not getting paid every time the commercial is played? It’s yet another example of corrupt politicians in DC pushing legislation that helps one particular industry, and making up completely ridiculous arguments to support their position. This isn’t about slavery or indentured servitude. It’s about Congress granting a huge mandatory windfall to the record labels (at the expense of radio stations) because those labels are unwilling to actually do something to properly capitalize on free promotion from the radio stations.

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Comments on “Rep. Conyers Compares Lack Of A Performance Right Tax To Slavery”

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Anonymous Coward says:

All I have to say is wow. That is just wow. Talk about biting the hand that feeds.

What if radio stations just stopped playing the big label’s music? They wouldn’t have to pay the tax, we might get to hear music that doesn’t suck, and the music industry dies a little more…all in all, a win win situation.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hell yes, they could even test market it with an “Indie Sunday” or something of that nature. One day a week with no music from the majors.

With our underground music culture here in Chicago, I’d bet that’d work out rather well, and I see no reason the same couldn’t be true for other major markets….

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Dark Helmet!! I never thought of that, thanks!!

“Hell yes, they could even test market it with an “Indie Sunday” or something of that nature. One day a week with no music from the majors.”

Been along time since I did one of these business plan reminders ….

293 note/entry) “Indie hour”, “Indie Sunday” for introducing people to CC, non Label, Indie music. It will cause leak over into the non indie hours. It also allows a trial by the stations and gets a foot in the door for expansion.

Big Ole GRIN!!!

CommonSense (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I thought it was a great idea too, and a couple of months ago I threw a suggestion towards my favorite Hartford area radio station. I got a ‘Thanks for being a loyal listener.’ reply, which was a bit disheartening… But, perhaps with this fresh news it’s time to try again 🙂

When I was growing up there was a radio station out of Upstate New York/Vermont that I would listen to, who played local music every Sunday night…that was about 10-15 years ago.

DSchmeling (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Indie Sunday!

This I could dig on a lot!

I listen to the radio usually for at least an hour or two everyday, and I regularly pull a song every couple weeks or so that I really like (Ex: Last week I heard Hey Soul Sister by Train and as soon as I got home bought it on iTunes) radio is the only way I hear new songs because I’m not really interested in going out and buying CD’s at random.

And any major college area has a significant underground scene because of all the crazy music students and general crazies playing music just drooling over the potential for radio coverage!

It’d be nice to see the major labels realize just how important the consumers are, and really think about how we learn about new music.

I always feel like if those of us who are actually passionate about these subjects were in charge of making the rules we’d be more fair and effective at it.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“What if radio stations just stopped playing the big label’s music?”

This is actually one of my favorite subjects, eventually economics will come into play and radio stations will play music that costs less. A small high school station boycotted big music and refused to play any of their music for one month. RIAA and musicFIRST wanted an FCC investigation. Basically there is no way to prevent radio stations from playing what ever they want. RIAA knows this and they were again trying to use intimidation tactics.

Designerfx (profile) says:


even in the most abstract of concepts I’ve never heard that not getting paid for your work = slavery. I mean sure, the jokes of the phrases “corporate slavery”, but that involves $$ so it’s not even tied.

The logic here of the slavery comparison is about the same level as complaining that when you’re salaried you’re not getting paid for the work you’re doing – aka the more you do, you still get paid the same.

Ryan says:

Re: Re:

Well, corporations are composed of and owned by those people, and the prosperity of the people and our businesses are interminably linked.

And politicians almost never act on some perceived mandate; they act in their own best interest, which is that of their contributors. Though the aggregate interest of taxpayers against this sort of thing far outweighs that of the interest to special interest groups, that of the former is weak while the latter is strong. In other words, each of us individually cares much less about it than the groups with business models directly affected by it(such as the RIAA). This is the same whether the type of government is democratic, fascist, or anywhere in between so long as that government is interventionist. The answer, of course, is a non-interventionist government.

In this case, it’s not even directly a matter of special interest-vs-general public but bussiness-vs-business, or more specifically record labels-vs-radio stations. Radio stations are less organized, less focused, less financed, and have less interest in the matter than record labels because songs are relatively substitutable(which is why radio stations inevitably would just stop playing songs they had to pay for), and so the RIAA is the winner in who-can-get-the-deepest-into-Congressmens’-pockets.

Frankly, I could care less personally(other than my outrage on principle of Conyers trying to screw over radio stations and their listeners). Stations will just play indie songs, we will come to accept that, and artists will continue to realize the folly of signing with these guys. Meanwhile, it will all be moot as technology continues to evolve and we’ll prolly all be listening exclusively to our media libraries(that may contain nearly every song on Earth pretty soon) for music.

angelika_bammer (profile) says:

Future of Music Coalition

Here’s the thing – songwriters and record companies that own masters already get a royalty. The performance royalty will go to the artists featured on the song.
Without addressing Conyers or the corrupt/greedy label issue – this royalty will pay recording artists that have never earned a cent from radio.
If you want to know more, visit Music First, it’s an advocacy group that has fought hard for years to get this royalty to working musicians. copy/paste this link:

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Future of Music Coalition

Here’s the thing – songwriters and record companies that own masters already get a royalty. The performance royalty will go to the artists featured on the song.

Right. A forced tax for promoting their music, when the market clearly suggests the money flow would go the other direction in the absence of governmental requirement.

Without addressing Conyers or the corrupt/greedy label issue – this royalty will pay recording artists that have never earned a cent from radio.

This is both misleading and wrong. As stated, the musicians have benefited tremendously from radio play over the years, which is why they crave it so much. To say they “have never earned a cent” from radio is wrong. They earn tremendous valuable promotion that gets them listeners and fans.

If you want to know more, visit Music First, it’s an advocacy group that has fought hard for years to get this royalty to working musicians. copy/paste this link:

Let’s be clear here. MusicFirst is not “an advocacy group working for musicians.” It’s a lobbying group funded by the RIAA.

angelika_bammer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Future of Music Coalition

To say they “have never earned a cent” from radio is wrong. They earn tremendous valuable promotion that gets them listeners and fans.

I misspoke before – I meant to say that musicians have never earned a cent from terrestrial radio royalties before. I should also qualify that by saying that songwriters do get a royalty, so the added benefit of a performance royalty would go to featured recording artists who are not songwriters.

However, the benefit of free promotion is not a settled issue. Some would argue that many music consumers listen to radio instead of buying music. Plus, now that millions of fans download for free, the entire distribution system has changed.

Let’s be clear here. MusicFirst is not “an advocacy group working for musicians.” It’s a lobbying group funded by the RIAA.

I honestly didn’t know that. I had them mixed up with the Future of Music Coalition.

I’m not fan of the RIAA (who is?), and as much as I believe the performance royalty is good for musicians, I’m convinced that it would have no presence in Congress if not for the RIAA. The RIAA’s push to pass performance royalty legislation might only benefit musicians as an afterthought to record label profits, but it would benefit them nonetheless.

interval says:

Re: Re: Re: Future of Music Coalition

@angelikablah blah blah: “…musicians, I’m convinced that it would have no presence in Congress…”

You’re completely WRONG. Musicians absolutely have a presence, its called voting. I can’t name any indy musician who misses the RIAA or any of the labels once they figure out how to promote themselves. The RIAA is only in business for themselves. The proof of this is easily found in their actions; demanding royalty payments from regular people who use labeled music as tacks in their baby videos on you tube? What artist in their right mind would be thanking the RIAA for stepping in and demanding royalties from them? And their ridiculous demands of the radio stations who promote their music for free. I’d like to see how great everything would be if music stations decided to honor those copyrights by boycotting all labeled music in favor of indie, or went all talk. I’d like to see how much the RIAA would love that.

Believing the RIAA represents musicians is like believing Santa Claus will take care of them.

angelika_bammer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Future of Music Coalition


I actually agree with everything you said. My comment was an intentional dig at the RIAA and Congress, not at musicians. That’s why I said the benefit to musicians was “an afterthought to record label profits.”

I know that musicians bust their asses to get their music out, and it’s AWESOME that they don’t need greedy buggers like the RIAA anymore.

The reason why I said it wouldn’t be on Congress’ radio without the RIAA is because of lobbying dollars, not because musicians don’t vote or don’t care. I know they do.

Hope that helps.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Conyers is Confused

Copyright is already a suspension of the individual’s liberty to sing another’s song. A compulsory license fee is the sale of the slave’s liberty back to him at a statutory price.

As for indentured servitude, Conyers should check out some of the contracts that members of RIAA get their naive and desperate marks to sign.

When privileges are renamed as rights, the privileged corporations are classed as persons, and the lack of compulsory license is termed slavery, then the ascendancy of Homo Sapiens is coming to an end…

Jeff (profile) says:

I see a future without free radio waves soon. The local radio stations are already dieing out because of things like satellite radio, and all the mp3 devices now available.
In my area they are about half the number we had 10/15 years ago. And the ones that are left are barely surviving.
But lets see you want to help me out by giving me airplay and letting the locals hear my music, then you need to pay me to do it. It’s like seeing a commercial on TV and the TV station had to pay the company in order to air the commercial.

They just want to bite off the hand that feeds them. Lets see, force the local stations out of business. Lots of folks will not pay for satellite radio. When the stations are gone, what is the next best option of hearing new music?.?.?. gasp?…piracy?…. nooooooooo!

They just don’t understand that if they cut out the guy promoting them, then those musicians are gonna be the ones loosing out.

Not everyone is a blind/deaf idiot and goes out and buys something they haven’t heard just because there is an ugly cutout or poster for a new album. I know I wouldn’t. If I don’t know what it sounds like then you better believe that I won’t hand over $15-25 bucks for a new CD.

I don’t pirate music, but you better believe if they cut out the option I have of hearing the new stuff, I’m gonna find a way to listen to a new song for hand over my hard earned paycheck to pay for it! And piracy is about the only option if there isn’t radio to hear it!!!

I guess they don’t really understand how their own business model works. You get the fans screaming to buy the music by “advertising” it over the radio. You don’t let them know what they are buying, then they won’t buy it period!!!

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Re: Slavery is a good metaphor

Slavery is not a metaphor for copyright. It is an alternative term, inappropriate only in degree. Slavery is the complete suspension of the individual’s liberty. Copyright is a partial suspension, of only their liberty to copy. Patent is another partial suspension, of their liberty to utilise or manufacture a registered design.

Where the cotton farmer used the threat of a whipping, the copyright holding corporation uses the threat of million dollar fines. And how many people today would consider suffering a hundred lashes if they could exchange it for a million dollars?

wallow-T says:

As a political move, I support extending performance royalties to traditional terrestrial radio.

Once that is done, we can then move forward on the issue of platform parity for performance royalties. Because the situation right now is that Internet radio pays through the nose, and terrestrial broadcast skates free.

I believe the only way to bring Internet radio royalties down to a level which will encourage the development of the medium’s potential is to extend those royalties to the more powerful broadcast radio business.

I think Mike disagrees with me on this strategy. 🙂

taoareyou (profile) says:

Radio on life support

Music radio is on it’s last leg anyway. I pay $30 a year for Pandora which lets me create my own music channels based on my interests. Music channels that I can constantly improve upon by giving songs a Yes or No vote. This service I can use everywhere: At home, in my car, at work, when I am walking down the street. Pandora is on my PC’s and on my mobile phone.

The only time I ever listen to the actual radio anymore is to catch the live local traffic reports during commute. If I knew where to find them via my phone, I wouldn’t use the radio at all.

I’m 40 and I know I’m not more tech trendy than those younger than me. When my daughter buys a car, she is going to be asking what high def ports it supports for connecting the popular mp3 players/smart phones in. She doesn’t even own CD’s, much less care about an FM radio.

It sounds like the industry giants are just squeezing each other for what’s left of the revenue flow from radio. Terrestrial radio will go first, but satellite radio is not interactive enough to last in the face of Internet radio.

Right now, I can be riding in my car and I hear a cool song that I want. I push a button on my phone and mark it for later purchase, or I can just buy it and download it immediately to play whenever I like.

That is the future of radio. Who will be paying who to get their songs played? We will see. But if Pandora (or similar service) doesn’t play your music, I won’t hear it, and if I don’t hear it, I’m not gonna buy it.

If I was Pandora, and you told me I had to pay you to play your song. I would just not play your song. 🙂

See who loses money.

Russ (profile) says:

Indie Radio

I doubt that would work because it ignores the nature of these laws. Instead an org like the RIAA would be assigned the responsibility to collect royalties from the stations that play music, regardless of source. Then they would distribute to the labels major and indie on the basis of something like sales or market share. the majors would have another source of funds to stay alive.

Anonymous Coward says:

However, the benefit of free promotion is not a settled issue. Some would argue that many music consumers listen to radio instead of buying music.

Yes angelika_bammer, and those some would be people who can’t argue their way out of a paper bag, to be generous.
How the hell do you think people hear bands that are not say, down the street at the local pub? How have people ever heard these musicians, outside of Jukeboxes? Care to answer?

I’ll save you the trouble “sweety”. It’s called the RADIO. Say it with me R-A-D-I-O. Since the best chance of recording the song off the radio pre-digital and even today, is to have a tape dec at the ready, and hope you don’t cut off the first half a minute of the song people do something else-they buy the music. It’s not only “settled” it’s probably the basis for the entire generation of CD buyers. You see people “listen” to “songs” and then when they want to hear those songs they like, and want to hear again-they buy the albumn. Those performers were already supposed to be paid for their work-by the “record companies”. Please find another bridge to troll under!

Plus, now that millions of fans download for free, the entire distribution system has changed….

What the hell does that have to do with radio? NOTHING.
Just because people choose to bypass legal means doesn’t make radio any less legitimate. Again, please troll, troll again..NOT.

angelika_bammer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

@ Anonymous Coward

How have people ever heard these musicians, outside of Jukeboxes? Care to answer?

On the radio, of course. That’s my point; the radio can replace purchases in some cases. It’s not a popular theory, but some would say that casual music consumers might listen to the radio instead of buying albums.

What the hell does that have to do with radio? NOTHING.

Actually, it does. If people listen to radio, then rip songs online, there is no point where the RIAA can make money from the radio play. Good for consumers, bad for the RIAA. The changes in the systems of distribution have plenty to do with the radio, but if we’re reacting to Rep. Conyers outlandish statements – best to think where they might be based. In this case, I would guess that the RIAA’s lobbying on behalf of its dwindling profit margins are responsible. That’s what it has to do with radio.

Care to spell out some areas where your POV is not a mouthpiece for RIAA talking points?

Certainly. From my POV, the performance royalty, while certainly benefiting the RIAA, can also benefit musicians.I think that benefit is almost entirely by accident on the part of the RIAA, but it exists.

The RIAA asserts itself as an advocate for musicians, and I would never buy that line from them. They are interested in profits only; RIAA companies have historically exploited and abused musicians terribly.

From my POV the royalty legislation itself can benefit some musicians, because it adds a revenue stream where none existed before – performance royalties from terrestrial radio play for featured artists. Now, do I believe that the RIAA wants this law passed because they love musicians? No. They love money, and they are in it for the benefit to their business only. But even as an afterthought, the possibility for a benefit to musicians exists.

Anonymous Coward says:

@angelika bammer: “It’s not a popular theory”

This isn’t a homecoming prom. It’s not about popularity, it’s about accuracy. Your argument has no factual historical basis, or evidence to back it up. The one presented by Mike, and the entire history of CD sales, tape sales, record sales, the entire record industry, decades of sales data, and billions of dollars spent, says you’re wrong. To continue your illogical strawman argument that it’s just about what argument is “popular” is not only disingenous, it’s intellectually insulting. I refuse to debate or discuss someone who will not acknowledge established FACT. You completely ignored my whole premise, and did not outline a SINGLE point where you could prove me wrong. Instead you took quotes out of context, and then said “well I have nothing to establish this, but it could be the case” (that radio replaces sales). Even if in a very, very, small percentage, some people chose to listen to radio vs. buying an “albumn” this AGAIN, does NOT negate the FACT (go look that word up too) that radio inherently by it’s nature promotes albumn sales. I’d say more, but it would be like beating a million year old horses bones. You’re seriously dillusional or just a liar. Either one is not to be envied. BTW, That isn’t “ad hominem”, that’s an opinion based on an assesement of your argument.

Larry Dean says:

Special treatment

I know that it rankles the RIAA that broadcast stations have a special expemption from paying recording royalties. But they are very mute about their own special exemption in the US copyright law that allows them to record composers works without negotiating a royalty payment. Every cover song (there must be millions by now, this statute has been on the books over 100 years)requires no approval or negotiation for rights from the original composer. European composers have in particular been hard hit and for decades they have called the American recording industry the largest source of pirated recordings in the world. No other country has such an outrageous and liberal copyright exemption. It is called “mechanical rights” in the copyright statutes.

Broadcast Instructor Jim says:

Performance Tax will Kill Student Radio

Non-Commercial Educational Student Radio stations already pay fees to ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC for the copyright holders of all music played. They already pay ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC as well as the RIAA for internet streamed music. And they buy the songs they play from the record companies and their distributors up front.
It is up to the performers to negotiate better contracts with their record comapnies if they need more compensation.
A performance tax will be a nail in the coffin of student radio and school stations across the country. Student stations and licensee schools and colleges cannot afford additional charges, which are effectively a fourth set of music payments.
How many times should the music industry (and performers are part of that industry) be paid for the same product?

Isaiah Too says:

Radio Performance Tax

I wonder if Congressman Conyers and the other members of Congress that support this tax stopped to think that maybe the RECORDING INDUSTRY are the ones that should be responsible for fully compensating recording artists for their works? After all, RECORDING LABELS are the ones that negotiated the original contracts with the artists. Shouldn’t that put them in the position of being responsible for any deficiencies in the levels of compensation due the artists for their work?

Could it be that this perspective is not being explored because this is not REALLY about compensating the ARTISTS anyway? Have the bill’s sponsors stopped to think that the RECORDING INDUSTRY might be using starving ARTISTS as fronts to shake down free public radio, and inevitability, the listeners of public radio? Or, are they too busy counting their campaign contributions to give a ….

I’m just saying…

rickyv (profile) says:

performance tax

This all seems like part of a bigger trend. TV broadcasters want more money from cable companies and now recording companies want more money from radio.
When traditional sources of revenue dry up, desperate companies will look to tap alternate sources. The end result of this trend in the short term is that people in NYC can not see the Academy Awards tonight due to the Cablevision/Disney dispute. The long term results of this trend may mean a further drain on the diminishing revenues of a radio industry in a failing attempt to stabilize the diminishing revenues of the recording industry. Radio is already taking a beating.
That these attempts to raise money from radio are couched in the fiction that this is for the artists is not surprising. How else could such a tax be marketed?

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