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A “Royal” Rip-off?

Should the government – or people actually listening music – determine how much music ought to cost? This question will soon be answered by the government – which will decree how much you’ll pay to hear music via streaming sources such as Pandora.

Should the government – or people actually listening music – determine how much music ought to cost? This question will soon be answered by the government – which will decree how much you’ll pay to hear music via streaming sources such as Pandora.

Also, how much the artists who create the music will earn.

An entity called the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) will soon be issuing the equivalent of a legislative fatwa decreeing royalty rates. Which are mostly paid not to the artists, but to record companies.

The CRB is just three federal bureaucrats – none of them elected, all of them appointed. They have absolute say over what ought to be a free market transaction.

Very few people outside the recording/broadcasting industry are even aware of the CRB’s existence – let alone its unaccountable (because unelected) and virtually dictatorial power.

The three board members – all “administrative law” judges – are appointed by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington – who himself was appointed to his lifetime tenure by Ronal Reagan back in 1987. This one man, in a very real sense, has been empowered to decide what you will pay to listen to music – and how much the artists who created the music shall earn.

It brings back memories of other ’80s-era things‚?¶ like the old Soviet Union. One can almost picture the members of the CRB standing on Lenin’s Mausoleum, reviewing the passing troops.

With Billington playing the role of Comrade Stalin.

Even the name is ridiculous – because the “copyright” board is not enforcing property rights. It is interposing itself between the buyer/listener (that’s you) and the seller/artist, telling both of you what the terms of sale shall be – whether you (or they) like it or not. The artists is not free to – for example – enter into a direct deal with Pandora, on terms agreeable to both. The government dictates to both what the “deal” will be.

It’s worse than that, actually.

What the CRB is doing – under the guise of “protecting” starving artists – is padding the pockets of far-from-starving record companies. Which hate streaming (and other digital forms of) music because it has decreased their profits.

Most people now download a song rather than buy a physical record or CD.

They listen to custom-configured song lists on Pandora.

This benefits listeners, obviously, because a digital format song or album does not involve a physical medium such as a vinyl record or even a CD, so it is much less expensive to produce the song or the album, so it can sold for much less.

But that means less for the record companies…

With Pandora or Spotify, you can choose the music you want to hear – as opposed to being stuck with whatever the radio station decides to play (another ’80s-era relic).

Digital media has made it less expensive to produce and distribute music – which makes music more accessible, by making it cost less not only to sell it but also to record and transmit it.

This is apparently a problem for the record industry, which wants the artists it holds in thrall to earn less – while you pay more.

Did you know that the current royalty rate paid to the recording companies is 55 percent? The remaining 45 percent is “processed” through an entity called the Sound Exchange, which is a creature of ‚?¶ the Recording Industry Association of America. In other words, of the record companies. Who want even more than the 55 percent of the profits generated by Pandora and Spotify they already get as result of the mafiosi tactics of the CRB.

Which is on the verge of decreeing that even more money be directed the re4cord companies’ way.

It’s not the artists who are starving. It’s the record companies who are insatiable.

The obvious question arises: Why is the government involved in this at all? Shouldn’t the free market set prices – and earnings? Cue Seinfeld voice: Who are these people? What gives them the right to tell you what you’ll pay to listen to music – or how much an artist is allowed to earn?

The CRB is Soviet – and like the Soviet Union, it belongs in the pages of history.

Like Gorbachev, the CRB politburo needs to find another job. Hopefully, something productive.

Eric Peters is a conservative and libertarian columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities: The Cars You Love to Hate (Motor Books International) and a new book, Road Hogs.

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