This past week two “coalitions” announced themselves, espousing principles like “compensating artists” and “supporting a pro-innovation, pro-creator, pro-consumer” copyright agenda.  Sounds like the members must be artists and other music creators, right?  But this is Washington, so if you thought it might be exactly the opposite, you’d be right. In fact, “mic” and “Re:Create” are two new coalitions whose real goal is to limit the rights of artists and songwriters, and to reduce their compensation for the commercial benefit of businesses who distribute music and other copyrighted content.  At bottom, it’s an effort to put government price controls on music.    

Case in point: radio broadcasters -- yes, the broadcasters! – are members of the new “mic” coalition whose stated doctrine includes “compensating artists.” Seriously? Could these be the same broadcasters who have for decades vigorously fought against paying artists anything at all when their music is played on AM/FM radio?  Another member, Pandora, refuses to pay musical icons of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s for their recordings.  Right now, in fact, Pandora is in the middle of court and administrative proceedings in which it’s attempting to lower the royalties it pays to all songwriters and artists. This doesn’t even pass the straight face test.   


Ironically, many of the multi-billion dollar behemoths bankrolling these coalitions would not exist without the music they seek to devalue. How many people do you suppose would tune in to iHeart Radio or Pandora if they didn’t offer music?  Music drives much of the businesses of tech titans and the culture that fuels them.  Just look online – music is one of the most talked about subjects and musicians are among the most “followed” and “liked” on social media networks.  Tech companies want music on their platforms because it makes them more appealing to the users who attract the advertisers who pay them vast sums of money.  An unhealthy music industry is bad for everyone, not to mention the negative economic ripple effects on broader parts of our economy, our culture and our national identity.

It’s amusing to see these coalitions attempting to position themselves as an underdog in a larger fight over creators’ rights.  The recorded music business is half the size it once was:  $7 billion in revenues in 2014, down more than half from nearly $15 billion in 1999.  Compare that to just ONE of the companies in the “mic” coalition, which alone earns annual revenues of more than $60 billion dollars – almost TEN TIMES the value of the entire American recorded music industry.  The combined revenues of the companies behind these organizations is likely well over $100 billion.  Paying fair market royalties to musicians is an impossible burden?  We do not begrudge the success of the tech companies which have prospered over the past decade, but their gains should not continue to come at the expense of creators.

It’s astounding to think that these companies are claiming that they need to get together to ensure “making music affordable and accessible.”  Music has never been more ubiquitously available in all of recorded music history!  And never has it been more affordable, from free to a low monthly fee for virtually every song ever recorded. The entire music industry has fully embraced everything the Internet has to offer. Fans today have more listening options than ever before.  There are at least 70 digital music services licensed by the companies we represent, offering a variety of models, each with millions of tracks.  Globally, that number is well over 400 digital music outlets.  We have reinvented ourselves as a modern, innovative, and truly digital business, with 2/3 of our revenues coming from digital sources that barely existed a decade ago. 

“Balance” in our copyright laws does not mean paying less or not at all for the music digital services and other tech companies depend on to generate profits for themselves. All we ask for is fair market rates for all music creators, regardless of the platform on which the music is played.  That’s what every tech business gets for its products.  Perpetuating a race to the bottom that would further devalue music and undermine a community that is still working to regain its footing is not fair, nor is it “pro-innovation, pro-creator, or pro-consumer.”  It is self-serving and short-sighted. 

The modern music industry has partnered with digital music services and tech companies of every kind to serve music fans in new ways.  We may disagree from time to time about what are the appropriate royalty rates to ensure that creators can make a living and digital services can build sustainable businesses.  That’s to be expected.  But creating a coalition to seek Congressional intervention to reduce our rights and limit our royalties?  Real partners don’t do that.

Sherman is chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.