Performers' coalition sends fish to broadcasters in royalties spat

In an indication that it is indeed possible to construct fences with a herring, a very public spat erupted this morning between representatives of musicians and broadcasters, with a can of fish as the proverbial bone of contention.

In an effort to maintain public attention in the debate over performance royalties paid annually by Internet radio services and not paid by terrestrial radio broadcasters, this morning, the musicFIRST coalition -- representing musicians and performers seeking royalties parity among multiple media -- sent National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr a can of herring.

The symbolic gift was representative of the coalition's characterization of testimony given last June 11 by two representatives of the broadcast industry, who argued that performers are seeking the unpaid dues from decades of bad deals with recording labels, but sending that bill to broadcasters instead of to RIAA members. Their argument was essentially that the terrestrial radio royalties debate was a red herring for unfair business practices by the record labels; musicFIRST's response this morning was its attempt to show the broadcasters what herring looks like.

"Every other platform that claims to promote music sales pays a performance royalty," reads musicFIRST Coalition Executive Director Doyle Bartlett's open letter to the NAB's Rehr, accompanying his gift of fish. "Every other platform that claims to promote music sales pays a performance royalty. The real issue is that corporate radio earns $16 billion a year playing music without compensating the artists and musicians who bring music to life and listeners' ears to the radio dial...[Terrestrial] radio is different because of a loophole under copyright law, not because of promotion."

It was not revealed whether the gift was appropriately refrigerated during the delivery process, though the NAB's public response this morning indicates the gift didn't smell all that good.

"This is so lame that it barely warrants a response," reads the response from Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton. "Instead of sending fish to radio stations that advanced the careers of artists, RIAA should send food to the entertainers that foreign record labels have abused for decades."

Wharton's statement was accompanied by a citation of news late last week that the 1980s rock band Poison filed suit against its former record label, Capitol Records, and its parent EMI Group, for allegedly miscalculating royalties due the band over several years. EMI has yet to issue a statement.

The NAB lumped the Poison suit along with similar suits filed last February by the estates of great big band artists of the swing era, including Benny Goodman and Count Basie, as indicative of a rash of accounting violations throughout the last century and running into this one.

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