Oct 23 2009

Kristin Thomson on the Performance Rights Act; Jennifer McLennan on Open Access


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This week on CounterSpin: The Performance Rights Act would require broadcasters to pay royalties that would be split between recording artists and record companies. The bill has just passed through house and senate committees, and will presumably be debated and voted on. The legislation, naturally faces strong opposition from the broadcasting industry, who say it will hurt stations and artists alike. Kristin Thomson, of the Future of Music Coalition, a group that supports the bill, will join us to discuss the Performance Rights Act.

Also on the show: October 19th marked the beginning of the first international Open Access Week, in which hundreds of academic, research and advocacy groups will show support for free, immediate, online access to the results of scholarly research. It’s a growing movement with wider relevance than you may realize. We’ll talk to Jennifer McLennan of SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resource Coalition, about what it’s all about.

That’s coming up, but first as usual, we’ll take a quick look back at the week’s press.

—An October 19 headline in the Washington Post over a report about its latest healthcare poll read “Public Option Gains Support: Clear Majority Now Backs Plan.”

But a more accurate headline would have been “Clear Majority Still Back’s Public Option,” since the new poll shows just a two percent rise in support, from 55 to 57 percent, over the paper’s poll a month earlier.

In fact, a quick visit to PollingReports.com reveals that, with a couple of outlying exceptions, polls have consistently showed majority support for a public plan for months on end. A September New York Times/CBS poll showed 65 percent support for a public option.

But this information hasn’t apparently sunk in at the Post, or with ABC World News anchor Charles Gibson either, who seemed caught off guard by the fact that the public supported a public option (as it nearly always has). In reporting the poll, Gibson said: “But perhaps the biggest surprise, 57 percent support one of the plan’s most controversial elements, perhaps the most controversial, a government-sponsored health insurance option.”

Well, if Gibson could pull his head out of Washington’s media bubble long enough to find out what the public actually thinks, he might not find it all so controversial—but that would be journalism that served the public instead of Washington insiders.

—One of the big media stories of the moment is the White House’s beef with Fox News. Tired of the channel’s relentlessly right-wing slant, several administration officials have decided to go on the attack. When White House communications director Anita Dunn went on CNN to explain their case, one example she offered was Fox‘s non-coverage of the latest news on Republican Senator John Ensign.

In early October, the New York Times reported that Ensign had arranged a lobbying job for a staffer whose wife he had been having affair with—a possible violation of Senate ethics rules. Dunn noted—correctly—that Fox had not covered the Ensign revelations; a search of the Nexis news database shows the subject coming up once briefly on the network, when a Washington Post reporter mentioned it during an unrelated discussion.

But Dunn’s charge didn’t sit well with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace. On his October 18 show, Wallace said he had to “fact check” Dunn—and he ran a tape from July, in which he asked a guest about Ensign’s extramarital affair, as illustration that Dunn was “just plain wrong.” But that wasn’t the same story; Dunn was clearly referring to the recent revelations, which suggest that Ensign was making political arrangements in connection with the affair—a much more serious and newsworthy issue.

Dunn had also complained that Fox zealously fact-checks Obama administration guests. We’re all in favor, actually, of journalists fact-checking public officials. It’s just not clear that that’s what Fox does.

—A little more on that: Glenn Beck also responded, unsurprisingly, to the White House criticism of Fox News as being something other than a real news outlet. On his October 18 show, Beck mocked the administration for being “more worried about the war on Fox than the actual war in Afghanistan.” He went on to say “America is fighting the war in Iraq.They’re fighting Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, and now, these people have taken on another enemy—FOX News.”

OK, spotting hypocrisy at Fox is like shooting fish in a barrel, but still. If Beck’s line is that the White House ought to pay more attention to the real wars the United States is fighting abroad than to its ideological opponents at home, is it really crazy to ask whether that’s a principle Beck practices or merely preaches? The website Politico took a look at the topics that have been discussed on Beck’s show since it debuted in January. Afghanistan has come up 97 times, Iraq 95 times. There have been 50 mentions of Osama bin Laden, 40 of Al-Qaeda, 38 of the Taliban.

But if the number of times he returns to a topic is any indication, those aren’t the country’s most important enemies or issues. No, the important enemies of the United States are the SEIU labor union, who came up 259 times, and the White House aide Van Jones, mentioned 267 times. And the number 1 enemy of the United States, for Beck, would seem to be… the community organizing group ACORN, whom he has brought up 1,224 times. So it’s unclear: does Beck want the White House to match his espoused priorities, or his actual ones?

—What does it take to be newsworthy these days at NBC? The New York Times reported on October 15 that musician Jon Bon Jovi has arranged an unusual deal to become what they’re calling an “artist in residency” on NBC—which means he’s appearing exclusively on that network’s various shows to promote an upcoming album. It’s not just a kind of icky “synergy” thing, though; the deal includes a segment on NBC Nightly News—part of the show’s “Making a Difference” series—to promote Bon Jovi’s philanthropic pursuits. So apparently he’s making a difference by refusing to appear on other networks.

And speaking of questionable news judgment at NBC Nightly News, on October 18, in a segment on the latest healthcare bill, correspondent Mike Viqueria noted that some who were “normally Obama allies” announced they would oppose the bill—but that there was also “opposition from a more familiar foe, Sarah Palin posting on her Facebook page and echoing insurance industry claims that the latest plan will mean higher premiums.”

Yes, a Facebook posting from the former governor of Alaska. And yes, single-payer advocates representing a majority of the population have to get arrested to try and make the news, but at NBC anyway, Sarah Palin just needs to type.

—And finally, many people think of the U.S. as a place where anyone can put pretty much any message out there in public, as long as they—or someone—are willing to pay for it. After all, we’ve got people on the public airwaves spouting all manner of hateful nonsense about immigrants, Muslims, foreigners and so on. So it’s good to be reminded that there are, actually, some things you can’t say in some places, even if you’ve got the cash.

That’s the takeaway from a recently reported story about the American Medical Association Alliance. That’s a group that issues periodic reports on the depictions of smoking in popular movies. This past spring, according to the October 18 New York Times, the group, along with the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, announced a plan to run billboards with their latest findings—to be placed near the studio found to be the biggest smoking offender, which turned out to be Universal.

Then corporate reality intervened, as billboard vendors throughout Los Angeles refused to run the ad. It wasn’t that the group couldn’t pay the billboard vendor, of course, just that those vendors get paid much more by the entertainment industry. (Indeed, in many cases, they are the industry: the country’s two biggest billboard companies are Clear Channel and CBS.) Evidently to allow public criticism of even one aspect of that industry was just too much. As the group’s spokeswoman said, “It’s a sad day when movie studios can promote smoking to youth, but public health advocates cannot find a billboard in the whole city of Los Angeles that will run an ad to alert the public about the problem.” The New York Times, for its part, called it an example of Universal “catching a break.”


CounterSpin: Legislation that could affect the relationship between recording artists and radio stations has passed through committees of both the U.S. Senate and the House. The legislation, the Performance Rights Act, would require radio stations pay a royalty every time they played a recording. Those royalties would be in addition to publishing fees already paid through the groups BMI and ASCAP to publishers and songwriters. Reportedly, the new royalties would be divided about 50/50 between recording artists and record companies.

With us to explain the bill further is Kristin Thomson. She is the education director of the Future of Music Coalition, a group representing recording artists that supports the Performance Rights Act. She joins us now by phone from Philadelphia.

Welcome back to CounterSpin Kristin Thomson.

Kristin Thomson: Thank you for having me, Steve.

CS: Well, Kristin, we’ll get to why Future of Music suports the bill in minute, but tell me, have I summarized the Performance Right’s Act sufficiently, or do you have anything to add to that?

KT: Yes, your summary was accurate. The part about the legislation being divided 50/50 is true, and it’s actually embedded in existing legislation, so it’s an important part to underscore we want to make sure that recording artists and sound recording copyright owners, which are usually the record labels are paid simultaneously.

CS: Well, tell us why Future of Music supports this bill.

KT: There are two reasons the FMC has long supported this effort. It’s mostly an effort of parity, and there’s two types of parity: there’s the first which is that the United States is one of the only countries in the Western world that does not have this performance right for sound recordings, and so this means that when American artists are played on radio stations in other countries, in Canada and overseas, there’s a royalty that’s generated, but because we don’t have a reciprocal right here, there’s no infrastructure and there’s no way for that money to flow back to American artists. And by passing the Performance Rights Act, we would make sure that artists could get their compensation on that.

CS: So where is that money?

KT: Oh, it’s held in black boxes in foreign countries and sometimes absorbed into the countries’ arts in education and culture programs.

CS: What’s the other parity part?

KT: The other parity has to do with the differences between different media platforms. This performance right for sound recordings already exists in the digital world. So cable operators, webcasters, satellite radio, they’re paying not only the songwriters and the publishers, but they’re also paying the performers and the sound recording copyright owners. They’re already paying it; that right already exists. And because the terrestrial over the air broadcasters don’t pay it, that’s an unlevel playing field, and we think that everyone should be paying the same types of rights.

CS: Well, you were explaining to me when we talked earlier how somebody could be driving in a car and listen to the same music and there could be a different financial arrangement.

KT: Right. So say you were listening to your local rock station in your car and one signal’s coming through your car antenna and through your car radio, and then say you have an iPhone that is able to capture a webstream, and you could listen to it in your car as well. For me as the user or the consumer, it’s the same music experience, I’m hearing the same song from the same source, but because of the method of delivery through my car stereo, or through my iPhone, it’s a different royalty structure.

And so we think this is a difference without a distinction, meaning that as technology gets more and more integrated into our daily lives, these types of differences about the method of delivery are becoming sort of silly. And we should make sure that the royalty structures are more harmonized so that all the different types of emerging technologies kind of pay the same types of rates and royalties.

CS: Well, this show, CounterSpin, airs on several small stations that also air music. Early on there was some concern that the Performance Rights royalties could break stations that air music. How does the bill address that issue, I mean, whose interest would it be in for small music stations to go under?

KT: Oh, absolutely, and there are I think a lot of members of Congress and certainly people in the music advocacy community recognize the value of radio, especially noncommercial radio as well. And there have been good efforts made by legislators to make sure that noncommercial stations have a lower tier of rate structure so that even a noncommercial station that has gross revenues of $100,000 a year, the flat fee that they would pay per year is just $1,000 to play all the music that they’d want.

There’s a similar tiered structure even for commercial stations, so even a station that’s making up to $1.25 million in gross revenue, they would just have a flat fee of $5,000 a year. So it’s recognizing the different types of revenue available to different stations and also recognizing the value that some of these smaller stations provide to communities.

CS: And some of those stations are not-for-profit or public broadcasting as well. Well, one of the arguments that the radio industry, which is obviously opposed to the act, puts forward, is that with the added fees, broadcasters will only give airplay to the most popular artists, and avoid new or less popular artists, in order to maximize income. How do you respond to that argument?

KT: FMC has done some research on the types of music that get played on commercial airwaves these days, and in fact, we did a fairly extensive research document in 2009 that looked at airplay and playlists from 2005-2008, and we realized that looking at the release date of some of the songs that they played, for the most part, radio stations, commercial stations, are fairly risk adverse. They like to play music that’s recognizable to their audience, and then they’ll sprinkle in the new hits and the new things that are coming out. So I’m not sure that radio stations aren’t already doing that, that they’re already playing things that recognize, and so it’s always been very difficult for new artists and emerging acts to get on radio airplay anyway, so I’m not sure that that argument is very valid.

CS: Yeah, I think a lot of people would say that’s what they’ve been doing for years. It’s just going with the blockbuster acts. Well, now that the bill is out of the House and Senate committees, and will presumably be debated more broadly, in those two institutions, how does the Future of Music Coalition see its prospects? Have you done any head counting?

KT: FMC hasn’t done any head counting itself. There are other organizations working on that. What we continue to do is to educate the musician community about the value of the Performance Rights Act, how it impacts their, each musician’s revenue stream, and how when we get to a point where there is a Performance Rights Act, and the right is in place, how artists will actually collect their royalties. So we just continue to do our education work, and in some cases, we convene events and meetings where people can, different stakeholders can talk about the different issues at stake.

CS: Speaking of that education work, tell us how listeners can find out more about the bill.

KT: Future of Music Coalition has a factsheet on our website, which is at FutureOfMusic.org. There’s also organizing groups, including the Music First Coalition, which includes a lot of the different content owners, recording artists, and the record labels and the unions, which are organizing around this as well, and so MusicFirstCoalition.org is also a good resource to look at some of the issues at stake.

CS: We’ve been speaking with Kristin Thomson, the education director of the Future of Music Coalition. You can, again, visit the group’s website at FutureOfMusic.org.

Thanks for joining us today on CounterSpin, Kristin Thomson.

KT: Thank you, Steve.


CounterSpin: Anyone who’s been involved in academic or scholarly research knows about those journals—you might rely on them for your work, even hope to publish in them some day yourself, but you can only get them at the library because their subscription rate is tens of thousands of dollars a year. It’s a fact of life for students and researchers but what does it mean for the larger society to have so much information locked away from the public? Isn’t that privatizing ultimately anti-public knowledge, or even anti-science? That’s just one of the questions being raised and discussed right now as part of Open Access Week, in which groups around the globe are raising awareness of the idea and the movement for open access to the fruits of research.

Joining us now is one of the organizers of the project. Jennifer McLennan is Director of Communications with SPARC, that’s the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resource Coalition; she joins us by phone from Iowa.

Welcome to CounterSpin, Jennifer McLennan!

Jennifer McLennan: Thanks, Janine.

CS: Well, this international week of events is unprecedented but the open access movement is not brand new. I wonder if you would tell us about the origins of this movement and what it stands for.

JM: Open access is a principle. It’s a principle that the results of research should be available immediately online and for free. Open access also means that the results of research should be available to use and reuse in the ways that are made possible by the Internet. Open access was formalized as a principle around 2000-2001 at a meeting in Budapest, after which the meeting participants signed the Budapest Open Access Initiative. But open access itself was not a new concept at the time. Publishers like Archive.org have been making results of research openly available since 1997.

CS: It’s just the web, I guess, has really catalyzed and made new things possible following this principle that weren’t really possible before, I would think.

JM: Exactly, exactly, and libraries really got onboard in the late ’90s because of the cost of access. As you say, institutional libraries can pay thousands of dollars for access to a single journal, and that is, it’s counter to science, it’s counter to scholarship, and it’s ultimately counter to the public good that should evolve out of research. But also open access is about taking advantage of the opportunities of openly available research. Just thinking of the connections, all the things that we can do when we can get access to everything online at our fingertips.

CS: Well, who were some of the sorts of participants in that original Budapest meeting? Is this just scientists or who were some of the folks involved early on in addition to librarians?

JM: The meeting was coordinated by the Open Society Institute, SPARC’s founding executive director—and SPARC represents academic and research libraries of all sizes. Our founding executive director, Rick Johnson, was present. Also Leslie Chan from Canada, Iryna Kuchma, and others representing research and libraries in the developing world.

CS: Well, in terms of the broader issues, who would you say are stakeholders here? You’ve sort of hinted at it, but we’re not just talking about something that’s of interest to scholarly researchers. It’s really the whole public that could benefit from this.

JM: Well, exactly, everyone’s a stakeholder. I mean, through the research process we have authors and researchers, the consumers of published research, and teachers, whose projects are dependent on access to available materials, as well as libraries that deliver access to campuses. Higher education administrators want to make sure that their campuses have access to what they need to help advance their missions as higher education institutions.

Students have an important stake, which they have very clearly and energetically articulated over the past few years. And, as you say, the public has a really important stake in this conversation, and that is multifaceted. First, as taxpayers, the public of every nation in the world contributes to the funding of research through their governments. So doesn’t it make sense that taxpayers should have access to taxpayer funded research? And that has direct implications for individuals. Whether as an individual who wants to learn about the latest developments in energy research or in climate change or if it’s a patient wanting the latest research on their condition or the condition their child has been diagnosed with. That’s really, really important.

But even beyond that, as the public, wouldn’t we like to know that research is being advanced in the most effective way, that researchers conducting research on behalf of society at large has access to everything they need to keep the pace of research going at the rate that it needs to be.

CS: Well, who would be against this? And why? It’s sort of difficult to imagine what the counter position or the pushback would be?

JM: It really is and the opposition is represented by a small subset of the scholarly publishing community, and they are not widely representative. There are many publishers that do support specifically public access, so open access after an embargo, but there are also publishers represented in the directory of open access journals, which lists over 4,000 journals, open access journals.

CS: Well, it’s sort of like alternative media, though, you’ve got to really grow those alternatives in order for folks who just want to publish and just want access to the information to be able to rely on something outside that small circle of very expensive materials and resources.

JM: Exactly, and if I may say the alternatives are growing, but another approach has emerged in the past couple of years where the producers of research, like the faculty of Harvard University, has said it doesn’t matter to us how the research gets out we would like the outputs of our research institutions to be openly available, whether it goes out through a report repository ultimately, or through a journal ultimately, or through an online peer review platform. Ultimately we want a copy of our research to be made openly available through our institutional repository.

CS: Alright, then. Well, finally, let me just ask you to fill us in on what are some of the groups that are involved in this week in particular, and what are some of the things they’re doing to raise awareness on this issue?

JM: I’m thrilled to say, I’m so excited about the participation in Open Access Week this year. Governments, the Netherlands has declared Open Access Year to be 2009, Germany has been very, very active through the Alliance of National Science Organizations, has coordinated involvement by 60 campuses, if not more, across that country. Campuses around the world, and in North America in particular are hosting events to raise awareness of open access, so Athabasca University has webcasts every day over noon hour. I was just at the University of Calgary, where they are having seminars throughout the week, and a Friday event that will be chaired by their V.P. of Research. And, importantly, folks are using Open Access Week as an opportunity to act, to really commit their support of open access through the enactment of policies and signing statement of support. For example, the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research announced a policy for open access this week. And also the University of Salford among others. We can’t wait to do the at the end of the week.

CS: Alright then, we’ve been speaking with Jennifer McLennan of SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resource Coalition. You can learn more about Open Access Week and open access at OpenAccessWeek.org. Thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

JM: Thanks, Janine.


Future of Music Coalition

SPARC (Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resource Coalition)