Michael Huppe is the CEO and President of SoundExchange, a non-profit digital performance rights organization that collects royalties for artists and copyright holders.
Honor Vs. Value:
As someone who was raised in the era of classic rock, I am thrilled to be attending this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Growing up, music was such an important factor in my life, and now as an adult, I am fortunate to have a career in the business.
Unfortunately, not everyone in our industry seems to share such respect for these icons. As we honor those whose music helped shape rock and roll, it is difficult for me to reconcile the fact that some digital radio services have cut off royalty payments to artists’ pre-1972 work – which includes work by half of this year’s inductees. Based on satellite radio giant SiriusXM and Pandora’s interpretation of copyright law, which they say allows them to use music recorded prior to 1972 for free, three of the six performers being inducted into the Hall of Fame are not getting the digital royalty payments they rightfully deserve.
New inductees Peter Gabriel, Linda Ronstadt and Cat Stevens all began their careers well before 1972. Under Pandora and SiriusXM’s view of the law, anything these artists recorded prior to 1972 – music like “Wild World” originally recorded by Cat Stevens and released in 1970 – can be played without compensation. Meanwhile, covers of these same recordings by Garth Brooks and Matt Nathanson do receive royalties. Fortunately for fellow inductees Kiss and Hall & Oates, who released their first tracks just months after the arbitrary date of February 15, 1972, they are paid for all their hits. If Hall & Oates had recorded their album just nine months prior to their November 1972 release, they too would be honored – but apparently not valued – by these billion dollar companies.
In a similar refrain, the Recording Academy’s prestigious GRAMMY Hall of Fame recently announced its 40th Anniversary inductees. As always, 2014 inductees represent influential and historically significant recordings. Of the 27 new inductees, 22 of them produced award-winning recordings before 1972. This includes legends like Neil Young, George Harrison, James Brown and B.B. King. They, too, will be short-changed by digital radio.
In 2013 alone, musicians and record labels with pre-1972 sound recordings lost an estimated $60 million in royalties. This figure is especially important when you consider that many of the musicians featured on pre-1972 recordings are no longer touring, selling merchandise, or cutting new records.
These legendary artists, that we rightfully honor, are the foundation of the music we listen to today. Their creations are woven inextricably into the fabric of American culture. This music brings back memories of the first dance at our wedding, the “theme-song” from our senior year, the very first album we purchased. But they represent more than just memories – they helped launch social movements, incited powerful change and highlighted injustice. Yet, as we honor and treasure these artists, their work is being devalued everyday by SiriusXM and Pandora.
This is not fair. It makes no sense to honor these musical legends at a banquet dinner, yet deny them fair pay for their work. Ask any artist today who stands on the shoulders of these giants and they will tell you that the artists who inspired their work should get a fair shake from digital radio. We should show respect for our roots and stand up for our music heroes. This is why we are asking Congress to protect the rights of these legacy artists by ensuring that the government license these digital radio services use treat all sound recordings the same.
At SoundExchange, we strongly believe that all artists, from all eras, should be paid for their work. It’s a matter of simple fairness to offer equal treatment for all sound recordings.
We are right to honor these creators – but let’s make sure we properly value them as well.
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