Diverse group of Washington DC lobbyists.
The major webcasters and broadcasters decided to convene a nearly secret last minute congressional panel to urge Congress and the DOJ to keep in place the 73 year old “temporary” consent decree that forces songwriters to let companies like Clear Channel, YouTube, Sirius, Pandora, Amazon and Spotify use our songs without any negotiation whatsoever. The consent decree also empowers a single appointed-for-life federal judge to arbitrarily decide what a “reasonable” rate is for songwriters. In effect we have been forced by federal courts to provide subsidy to corporations that have a combined market cap of more than a trillion dollars.
As I demonstrated in this an earlier post as a songwriter I received less than $17 dollars from Pandora for over a million spins of my song Low.
How is this a “Reasonable” rate?
The panel was hosted by Greg Barnes of DiMA. Other panelists included David Oxenford National Association of Broadcasters and Mathew Schruers from the CCIA. The companies represented by these lobbying outfits (Amazon, Clear Channel, YouTube/Google, Spotify, Pandora, Microsoft, Yahoo have a combined market cap of over a trillion dollars. YET THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE REPRESENTATIVE OF SONGWRITERS ON THE PANEL. This is particularly appalling considering that songwriters are the ones living and working under the consent decree.
I had prepared a short set of comments detailing my experience as a songwriter, especially the financial effects of the consent decree on my digital royalties. I parked myself in the second row and waited for the moderator Greg Barnes to start taking questions from the audience. Mine was the first hand up and Barnes indicated that he would call on me but first he wanted one more comment from Oxenford. It was during Oxenford’s comment that I noticed the lobbyist (?) seated directly in front of me pulled out her smartphone and started frantically texting something. Curious I leaned forward and could clearly read my name and then the phrase “watch out”. Funny stuff. I wanted to say “Hey dumbass, I’m sitting right behind you.” But I resisted.
Curiously it was immediately after this that Barnes suddenly announced that they would only be taking comments from “Staff” members and I would have to wait “til the vey end and time permitting only.” He then proceeded to call upon a college student from GW.
SERIOUSLY? The Digital Media Association is in the business of selling songwriters music but their chief DC lobbyist is afraid of having a songwriter speak. Spineless coward. If that’s not clear, Yes, Greg Barnes, I am calling you a spineless coward. And I’m standing by it.
When the college student finished his comments I raised my hand again. Once again Barnes told me that they were only taking questions from staffers despite the fact he had just demonstrated that they were in fact taking questions from anyone.
This went on for a while and I realize that Barnes clearly intended to not let me ask a question. For amusement I started to stare down the not-quite-slimey representative of the National Association of Broadcasters. He suddenly found something in his lap extremely interesting and wouldn’t look up. If I was absolutely certain that he was not suddenly transfixed by the unexpected appearance of a colony of miniature unicorns dancing on his lap I’d call him a spineless coward as well. But as I actually couldn’t see his lap, I can’t rule out the possibility of miniature unicorns, and so for now I’ll give him a pass.
The night before this event I had been warned that it was likely that I would be blocked from asking any questions or making any comments. Considering the fact I was gonna have to get up at 5:45 am to make it to the panel I wasn’t really in the mood to go to all this effort for nothing. I had to have a plan B.
A few days before a songwriter friend remarked that the current licensing system for songs and digital services was so fucked up that songwriters really had nothing left to lose except “the shirts off our backs.” I remembered this. I went across the street to the local grocery store bought some gift bags and wrapping paper and proceeded to gift wrap three shirts that had been worn by me and my bandmates as “gifts” for the NAB, CCIA and DiMA. I figured that at the very least I could present them with the shirts off our backs and eke out a photo op.
Of course it didn’t go that way. Clearly Barnes was terrified of having an actual songwriter air a viewpoint that was contrary to the party line. When he asked for questions again, I asked that as the only person in the room forced against their will to live and work under the consent decree I be allowed to speak. He refused.
So shit, I did what I had to do. I marched up to the panelists and presented each of them with a gift wrapped “shirt off of a songwriters back”. They looked like they were gonna pee their pants. It was priceless.
“I got less than $17 dollars for a million spins on Pandora, that’s your consent decree at work.” I told the room and walked out.
The whole thing was so fucking stupid on the broadcasters/webcasters’ part. If they’d just let me speak they could have spent the final 15 minutes to counter my questions and statements with measured doses of non-sensical legalese and mock concern for the plight of the independent songwriters. But by acting like spineless cowards they totally screwed themselves. Just goes to show that if you put on a “Show trial?” you very well may end up with a show you didn’t expect.
Welcome to Washington gentlemen.
For those of you keeping score it’s now
Scooby Doo Gang 2