Yesterday, we told you a little bit about FMC's fight for artists' free speech and right to creative expression via a legal brief on the FCC's indecency policy. Well, we're at it again — this time in the form of FCC reply comments to a MusicFIRST petition originally filed with the Commission back in August.
MusicFIRST is a group that includes labels, musicians' unions, SoundExchange and hundreds of musicians. Their recent petition claims that some artists have been denied radio play based on their support of the Public Performance Right — which would compensate performers and sound copyright owners (usually the label, but sometimes the artist) for the over-the-air broadcast of their work. For more info on the performance right, check out our Public Performance Right fact sheet.
The petition also takes issue with broadcasters' refusal to air paid pro-performance right advertisements to counter the National Association of Broadcasters' own spin-heavy ads. FMC isn't part of musicFIRST, and weren't involved in the filing, but we did provide reply comments in response to the original round of comments at the FCC. You can read a PDF of our statement here.
Though we at FMC are not privvy to specific evidence that indicates broadcasters are dropping artists from playlists because of their support of the Performance Right (besides what's in MusicFIRST's petition). Yet if the allegations are indeed true, such actions would be of serious concern. Here's an excerpt of our comments on the matter:
While we understand and respect the First Amendment rights of broadcasters, the issues raised in the MusicFIRST complaint regarding broadcasters specifically denying airplay for musicians that support a performance right are serious and deserve the FCC's attention. Over the years we have alerted the FCC about specific allegations of radio station behavior. These include artists and labels having to hire specific third-party promoters to get radio airplay, or artists being forced to donate time and services to play concerts sponsored by radio stations as a condition of being eligible for airplay. If proven to be true, the questions raised in the MusicFIRST petition are particularly troubling: as we review the record, the core allegation is that broadcasters and broadcast groups are colluding to intimidate recording artists to not take a position on a public policy position that directly impacts their livelihoods.
We once again illustrate how the consolidated radio market, where decisions are often made at the national, rather than local level, can create the conditions in which broadcasters can behave in ways that are detrimental to artists. Again, we at FMC have no evidence beyond what's been made public in the MusicFIRST complaint, so we can't say for sure that this is a coordinated effort by the broadcasters to suppress musician voices. But we certainly believe — especially considering the negative impact of radio ownership consolidation — that such allegations are worthy of examination by the federal agency tasked with regulating the public airwaves.
Yet for the FCC to be able to fully understand how these situations can arise, it needs to do a better job at understanding trends at an industry-wide level. As we state in our comments:
The FCC simply needs better data to understand the radio marketplace. To use this proceeding as an example, it is difficult for the FCC to evaluate the validity of the allegations without access to playlist data that could quantify the impact of the alleged retaliation. FMC has made specific recommendations in recent filings about data collection that we would like the Commission to consider.
We're not saying that the broadcasters don't have a right to choose their programming. But commercial station operators have done a shameful job at upholding their commitments to the communities they serve. By further limiting the number of voices on the dial (if that's indeed the case here), the terrestrial radio industry may ultimately end up silencing itself. With listeners tuning out in favor of more diverse content on other platforms, can radio afford to drop artists' because of their opinion on an issue that commercial radio itself has helped to politicize?
We also wanted to mention an Op-Ed that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer about why the Public Performance Right is so important to artists. The piece was co-authored by Helen Bruner and Terry Jones, who are producers, songwriters, and the owners of Philerzy Productions — a multifaceted music company in the City of Brotherly Love. Helen is also a speaker at the 2009 Future of Music Policy Summit (Georgetown University, Oct. 4-6). Reserve your spot today!