2020 Grammys

Taking Stock: A Matter Of Respect

On Sept. 8 NARAS presented Grammys on the Hill, its annual Washington, D.C., awards dinner. The event honored Natalie Cole; Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif. The following is

Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, outlines the academy's advocacy agenda.

On Sept. 8 NARAS presented Grammys on the Hill, its annual Washington, D.C., awards dinner. The event honored Natalie Cole; Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.; and Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif. The following is adapted from Portnow's planned remarks at the event.

As I travel around the country to our 12 Recording Academy chapters, I have the opportunity to speak to thousands of music professionals. It's a diverse group, representing many genres and cultures, young and old, male and female. I speak to artists who have achieved platinum sales success and those hoping for their first big break. When we discuss the complex legal and economic issues facing artists today, I hear many differing views. I hear about decreased CD sales, barriers to radio airplay and other challenges that they face. But the one word I hear most often may surprise you. That word is "respect."

Musicians want their works respected. They want to decide how their music will be distributed. They want to decide when their new work will be released. And they want to control the quality of those recordings.

Allow me to focus on this all-important concept of "respect" and specifically address two areas of serious concern.

File sharing is one such issue. Tracks are often uploaded on peer-to-peer Web sites before their release dates. Quality is often poor. Songs are "traded" like a commodity without consent from the owner or creator. Yes, we know file-sharing services cause damage to our industry. Yes, we know they hamper legitimate services from fully blossoming. But let us never forget an equally grievous outcome: These services disrespect artists.

How do we address this problem? The most significant response and deterrent available to the industry so far has been to sue individual computer users. Many in our community would appreciate an alternative. Well, thanks to some forward-looking senators, including our honoree, Hillary Clinton, there may in fact be another option. That is why the Recording Academy supports the Induce Act.

Co-sponsored by senators Alexander, Boxer, Clinton, Daschle, Frist, Graham, Hatch, Leahy, Sarbanes and Stabenow, this bipartisan act would put responsibility where it belongs: at the feet of those companies whose sole service is to induce others to violate copyright laws.

In a recent Billboard commentary, the Consumer Electronics Assn. claimed that "aside from the [Motion Picture Assn. of America] and RIAA, the [Induce] bill has no public supporters." Frankly, the supporters are many: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC; the American Federation of Musicians and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists; and the Recording Artists' Coalition, the Songwriters Guild, the Nashville Songwriters Assn., the Music Managers' Forum and others all join the Recording Academy in supporting the Induce Act.

So to our friends in the technology community, please understand that our organizations, together representing hundreds of thousands of creative professionals, are all very public supporters of this bill. We want to work with you. We urge you to work with us, as well as with these visionary senators. Together we can help to pass a fair bill that protects legitimate technologies, prevents illegal file duplication and respects the backbone of our industry, the creative artists.

Finally, on the subject of respecting artists and the music they create, there is one area the academy is determined to address. The time has come for U.S. radio stations to join the rest of the industrialized world and compensate artists for using their works on the air.

A performance right for artists is long overdue. Hundreds of millions of dollars that rightly belong to copyright owners and creators go unpaid without this right, and we call on Congress to correct this historic inequity as soon as possible.

We cannot allow the discussion to turn into a debate about radio's so-called promotional benefits. To appreciate the absurdity of that argument, imagine this: A movie studio tells a novelist he will not be compensated for the rights to his book because the movie version will promote his book sales. Such a concept would never be accepted in any other industry. But it sadly is a standard practice in ours.

And we also must not allow the discussion to turn into a zero-sum game pitting artist against songwriter. Current songwriter royalties should and will be protected. A new performance royalty for artists must be in addition to royalties paid to writers.


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to Billboard.com/business.

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.