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Can Incoming RIAA Head Make U.S. Music Business Great Again?

As streaming grows, policy issues will only become even more important. Here are five of the most important issues on the next RIAA chief's plate.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) announced Monday (April 3) that Mitch Glazier will step up to the helm of the trade group — first as president immediately and then as chairman and CEO in January 2019. (Cary Sherman, who has led the organization since 2011, will retire at the end of 2018.) His appointment comes at a pivotal time: After a decade-and-a-half downturn, the recorded music business is finally growing again.

“There’s a lot of optimism,” says Glazier, who has worked at the RIAA for 18 years and is currently senior executive vice president. “But it’s a very fragile recovery.”

As streaming grows, policy issues will only become even more important. Here are five of the most important issues on Glazier’s plate.



1. The Register of Copyrights

The most immediate issue for the RIAA is who will be the next Register of Copyrights. Since October, when Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden moved aside the former Register, she’s been looking for a replacement — but lawmakers just introduced a bill to make the position a presidential appointee instead. The RIAA supports it.

Hope and Change: Policymakers have considered the idea for some time.



2. Fair Play, Fair Pay

Labels and musicians have tried to get radio stations to pay for the use of their music for more than 50 years — Frank Sinatra pushed the issue — but the issue has heated up over the last decade. The Fair Play, Fair Pay Act failed in 2015, but it was re-introduced at the end of March with bipartisan support led by Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Radio stations argue that they already provide plenty of promotional value.

American Exceptionalism: Radio stations pay to use recordings in almost every other country.



3. The “Value Gap”

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act established safe harbors that exempt online platforms like YouTube from liability for copyright infringement committed by their users. The law helps Internet businesses, but creators and music executives believe it also gives YouTube an unfair advantage, since the service essentially starts out with access to content that other companies must negotiate for.

Fake News? Nope — Billboard estimates that YouTube pays out less per stream than other online services.



4. Satellite Radio Rate-Setting

The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) will soon begin the “SDARS III” proceeding that will set the level of royalties owed to labels and musicians from 2018 to 2022 by Sirius XM and cable television music services. It’s boring but important: Those payments amount to several hundred million dollars a year.

Big Government: Sirius XM royalties are set according to a lower standard than that used for “online radio” services like Pandora, but the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act would put the services on the same standard.



5. Copyright Reform

It’s a big deal for legal geeks: The last major reform was the Copyright Act of 1976. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has been holding hearings on the subject for years, but progress requires shrewd negotiation.

Art of the Deal: “I don’t think Silicon Valley holds all the cards anymore, either politically or culturally,” Glazier says. “And today people think of music and tech as being one and the same.”