Last night, America gave a sweeping mandate to Barack Obama and Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate. What does this mean for the music community? While we are still weeks away from determining some of the details how this will shake out – including who will lead the FCC and the makeup of key committees in Congress – this brief update spells out some key themes that will determine the direction of the media, internet and IP policy issues that will affect the future landscape for the music community.
Access: Rethinking How Policymakers Relate To The Arts
FMC believes the election represents good news for the artist community. The outcome is a repudiation of years of “pro-corporate” politics – the kind of policymaking focus that led to runaway consolidation in the radio marketplace and a duopoly stranglehold on Internet access. We now believe there is an opportunity to rethink how policy relates to the arts, moving beyond a politics driven by broadcast, telecommunications and entertainment conglomerates in favor of a more holistic approach that prioritizes the sustainability of local creative communities and artists. This approach recognizes:
- the importance of ubiquitous access to communications and broadband technologies
- artists’ ability to access the marketplace without unnecessary gatekeepers
- innovative content delivery models that enhance local arts and culture and facilitate a legitimate digital music marketplace where musicians are compensated for their work
- Support for arts and cultural institutions rooted in an acknowledgement of sustainable, local cultural communities.
We anticipate the new administration will support artists on internet and media access issues such as:
- Greater Access to Broadband: Artists will benefit from the Obama administration’s focus on broadband deployment and its consistent support of Net Neutrality as a major public policy goal.
Better broadband deployment will connect more artists to potential audiences and expand the legitimate digital music marketplace.
- Greater Access to Spectrum: The Obama administration will look at reforming how spectrum is allocated in this country, prioritizing wider access to the public beyond the major telecom and media groups and the NAB.
- Radio Ownership Will Become More Diverse: Radio ownership issues need not break down along partisan lines, yet Democrats in Congress and the FCC have been much more aggressive in efforts to rein in consolidation, expand community radio and address structural payola.
- LPFM in Urban Markets: We’re cautiously optimistic that Congress will move quickly to overturn the longstanding ban against the FCC issuing licenses for non-commercial Low Power FM radio stations in urban markets.
- FCC Oversight of Payola Allegations: The election will likely lead to improved FCC collection of playlist and station ownership data, as well as greater oversight of existing payola regulations resulting from the March 2007 settlements.
The Future Landscape for Copyright and Anti-trust
Copyright remains one of the few issues not dependent on partisan politics, so the election will not have as much of an impact here. Still, it remains a critical part of our work to engage in ongoing debates about proposed changes to copyright law. FMC feels strongly that the transition to a legitimate digital music marketplace is starting to take root, and we believe Congress and the Administration will continue to play an important oversight role as that market proceeds to take shape.
This administration will likely be the first to appoint an IP Czar to coordinate the various government agencies’ IP enforcement agendas and streamline the enforcement process. We also expect continued congressional movement on a performance right for sound recordings, which retains bi-partisan support.
The anti-trust agenda of new administration could also impact artists. If the Department of Justice pursues anti-competitive and monopolistic practices more in the manner of the European Union and less like the Bush administration, it could put the brakes on additional rapid horizontal and vertical consolidation in the music, media and telecommunications industries and help establish a more level playing field.
Towards Sustainable Local Cultural Economies
Taking a broader view, FMC believes that the Obama administration will more generally reverse a longstanding trend toward policies that are fundamentally anti-artist and anti-culture. FMC believes that the combination of aggressive policies aimed at increasing diversity of media ownership, a strengthened non-commercial media sector and increased deployment of and access to technology will significantly aid what we consider sustainable local cultural economies. As access to digital technology increases, the chain of businesses that make up the cultural economy – including artists, performers, retailers, distributors, venues and record labels – will be less bound by geography. Radio’s return to a diverse, live and local medium with strong community ties will be tremendously beneficial.
Arts advocacy groups and cities like Seattle and Austin have documented the economic importance of thriving music communities. We anticipate a new political outlook that values local culture both as an economic driver and as a symbol of regional identity. Too often, government policies and processes on issues ranging from radio ownership to arts funding have not been open to public input. They are simply too complicated and hidden from view, with outcomes that benefit conglomerates at the expense of local cultural communities and artists. The incoming Administration must take a broader view that understands and values the interconnectedness of policy decisions and their impact on artists and communities.
Embracing the Future of Music
As the Congress and Administration take shape over a period of weeks, the specific policy agenda will become clearer. To this end, FMC will continue our work at the intersection of music, law, technology and policy. On February 11, 2009 FMC is hosting a Policy Day in Washington, DC that examines the election’s impact on four issue areas: media, broadband/internet, copyright/intellectual property and cultural policy. We invite you to attend that conference, as well as our 2009 Future of Music Policy Summit, which will be in October 2009 in Washington.