As The RIAA Lobbies For More Royalties For Itself, It's Fighting (And Losing) Over Having To Pay Royalties To Songwriters

from the what's-good-for-the-goose... dept

The RIAA is in the middle of a big fight for new royalties (i.e., a performance rights tax) on songs played on the radio, going on and on about how anyone against those fees are "stealing" from them. Yet, when it comes to the royalties that RIAA members have to pay to others, suddenly those are worth fighting against. As you hopefully know, there are a few different copyrights related to music. There's the copyright on the recording itself, which is usually held by the record label. But there is also the copyright on the song or composition, which can be held by a music publisher or the songwriter.

For whatever reason, while there is a compulsory license setup for anyone doing a cover song, such that if you cover a song, you don't have to first get permission to do so, but you just have to pay an agreed upon rate, which is usually set by the Copyright Royalty Board (a group of judges who more or less pick a number out of a hat). There are all sorts of problems with having a group of judges trying to randomly set prices on royalties, but it is how the system is set up. What's amusing is that after a recent Copyright Royalty Board ruling on cover songs set the rate higher than the RIAA liked, the RIAA went to court to get those rates changed. A district court turned the RIAA down, and now an appeals court has done the same.
Specifically, the RIAA got upset that the CRB said it had to pay late fees, and also that it says composition copyright holders should get a whopping 24 cents for every ringtone sold (way above the rate for songs on CDs). Instead, the RIAA argued that songwriters/publishers should receive a percentage of revenue. This one really makes me laugh. For years, various digital music startups have tried to license music from the RIAA -- and all of them go to the RIAA with a "percentage of revenue" offer. In every single case the RIAA turns them down, demanding huge upfront fees and guarantees on revenue. Funny that when it's their own money on the line, suddenly a percentage of revenue is the preferred option.

In both cases, the court rules against the RIAA, pointing out that, even though the RIAA doesn't like the ruling, the CRB is well within its legal mandate to make both decisions. To be honest, I actually think the RIAA is correct that these rates and the reasoning behind them are ridiculous and not at all sensible. The ringtone rate, in particular, is particularly egregious, and make it difficult for creative business models that embrace things like free ringtones to exist.

However, I find it to be quite hilarious to see the RIAA arguing so vehemently against these rate rulings, when it's demanding similar rulings on its own behalf. Apparently, the RIAA really only supports such rates when it gets to collect them. When it has to pay out, suddenly those royalties are a problem. Funny how that works...

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2010 @ 10:00am

    What is the point of buying ringtones separatly when many phones play mp3 files and those can be set as the ring tone?

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