Fair Pay For Music Creators Takes Center Stage At SXSW
(To learn more about supporting fair pay for music creators, and The Recording Academy's Advocacy & Public Policy initiatives, visit www.grammy.org/advocacy.)
The United States shares a dubious distinction when it comes to compensating artists for terrestrial radio airplay: It is one of the few developed countries without the right, joining nations such as China, North Korea and Iran.
This startling fact formed the root of Artist Rights, Fights, Advocacy, Policy, And Legislation, a South by Southwest panel on March 18 that addressed the need for copyright law updates and The Recording Academy's push for passage of the proposed Fair Play Fair Pay Act. As a reflection of the fact that The Recording Academy represents an array of music professionals, panelist Todd Dupler, The Academy's Senior Director for Advocacy & Public Policy, noted the first word of the panel title should be changed to "Creators" to address compensation for producers and engineers, as well as songwriters and performers.
A SXSW continuing legal education offering, the panel was moderated by Recording Academy Trustee and CLE co-chair Ken Abdo, chair of Minneapolis law firm Lommen Abdo's entertainment law department and past Chair of the GRAMMY Foundation's Entertainment Law Initiative. He expertly questioned Dupler and fellow panelists Kevin Russell and Curtis Philp about their experiences, perspectives and insights regarding the need for copyright reform and the related challenges and obstacles.
Austin, Texas, native Russell, who performs under the moniker Shinyribs and serves on The Recording Academy Texas Chapter Board, discussed his evolution from a "typical musician," who let others worry about his career, to a committed advocate for creators' rights. It began when he learned the version of Snoop Dogg's "Gin And Juice" he recorded with his former band, the Gourds, was one of the most downloaded songs on a then-new digital music platform: Napster.
"When money started waning, it got your attention," Abdo observed.
Dupler mentioned that other countries collect airplay royalties for American artists, but they don't pay because there's no reciprocal agreement in place. He estimated this costs American artists approximately $100 million annually in lost royalties.
Russell addressed these issues in an October 2015 op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman after paying a visit to Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) to seek his co-sponsorship of the Fair Play Fair Pay Act. Abdo encouraged others to do the same.
"This has become a survival issue. It's become a cultural issue," said Abdo. "Intellectual property is the United States' No. 1 export. Music is a big part of that. … It can't be a passive matter anymore. These people that have the power, they need to know it's important."
Philp, deputy chief of staff to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), admitted learning more about the issues has changed his perspective on music. He used to be a consumer of entertainment, but now he's studying the business itself.
"We have to learn more about the actual business models … what it takes for artists, for songwriters, labels, for publishers, and for folks who distribute it to consumers," said Philp. "Without that input, I don't know how we can make an accurate policy choice or consideration."
Of course, Philp hears from what Abdo termed "the other side": the broadcasting lobbyists who oppose the bill because it would cost them money. But Philp said it makes a world of difference when people such as Russell visit their representatives and put into perspective their life's work.
"It means so much more to hear it from the folks who are out there creating the entertainment for us," said Philp.
Dupler offered details of the legislation and why it's important to update not only current copyright laws, but to close loopholes that prevent royalty payments on pre-1972 recordings. Part of his role is to serve as a lobbyist to speak for The Recording Academy's nearly 25,000 members, as well as all creators affected by copyright laws.
"We just represent the people who make music," said Dupler, "and we’re advocating on their behalf to ensure that all music creators — songwriters, performers, and studio professionals — earn fair pay for their work across every platform."
(Austin, Texas-based writer/editor Lynne Margolis contributes regularly to print, broadcast and online media including American Songwriter and Lone Star Music magazines. Outlets also have included the Christian Science Monitor, Paste, Rollingstone.com, and NPR. A contributing editor to the encyclopedia, The Ties That Bind: Bruce Springsteen From A To E To Z, Margolis also writes bios for new and established artists.)