'Labels, indie promoters not focus.'

A leading lawmaker long critical of the negative fallout of radio consolidation introduced legislation today (Nov. 18) that seeks to close the loopholes on payola-like practices and stop alleged "muscling" practices by broadcast-venue owner companies from forcing performers to play for reduced fees or for free.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., says he crafted his "Radio and Concert Disclosure and Competition Act of 2005" after studying the New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's $10 million settlement in July with Sony BMG Music Entertainment, and realizing there is a need to help artists and also regulate such practices on the radio side.

Labels and independent promoters are not the focus of the bill. In his Senate floor statement, Feingold said that in addition to payola, "there are other abuses of power over airplay decisions by radio stations and their corporate parents," especially when they also own concert promoters and venues.

"This cross-ownership sets up a situation where the same corporation that is negotiating a contract for an artist to perform at its concert also controls the lifeblood of that artist's success," he added. "The result can be intense pressure on artists to play radio station-promoted shows and, often, to do so for less than the normal rate."

Moreover, Feingold added, "for any artist who deigns to refuse the direct or implied extortion from the conglomerate, as Don Henley's courageous testimony in a 2003 Commerce Committee hearing clearly explained, there is the risk of retaliation."

In addition to requiring such companies to pay performers or provide compensatory goods and services, the bill would simultaneously strengthen the FCC's ability to prove violations and punish offenders -- by authorizing the commission to increase fines and look at possible license revocation in some cases.

"The prospect of putting a license in jeopardy will get their attention," quipped Feingold.

The bill would "close the loophole allowing indirect payola, and prevent radio-venue crossownership from hindering fair competition," he said. It would require stations to disclose all receipts of payments or consideration that could be used as a front for payola along with a list of the songs played every month, broken down by label and artist.

It would also offer greater transparency through disclosure of the payments to radio stations from artists, labels, promoters and others who may have an interest in improperly influencing airplay decisions.

Artist groups praised the introduction of the bill.

"Payola has always been a big problem for recording artists and it has been exacerbated by the horizontal and vertical consolidation of the media," said Randall Himes, assistant national executive director of sound recordings for the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (AFTRA). "Updating the law in this area is long overdue."

"We're hopeful that the senator's efforts will encourage Mr. Spitzer and others to continue their valiant fight against payola and media consolidation in the radio and concert business," said Rebecca Greenberg, national director of the Recording Artists' Coalition (RAC).

RIAA chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol said: "This bill is a step in the right direction. We support the artist groups in backing an update to the law that will prevent abuses and showcase more artists to fans across the country."

Other supporters include the American Assoc. of Independent Music; the American Federation of Musicians; Consumers Union; Free Press; the Future of Music Coalition; NARAS; and the RAC.

A Feingold spokesman says the lawmaker will seek co-sponsorship after the Thanksgiving recess.