Jonatha's Turn

In this week's Creative Loafing, Dawn Morgan covers the impending royalty increase for webcasters. She contacted singer/ songwriter Jonatha Brooke for her take on the controversy, because Brooke had testified before the Copyright Royalty Board in favor of artists' rights for fair payment. We didn't get Brooke's reply in time to include it with the story, but thought it added some important points to the argument — so here it is:

Hi Dawn,

This might be a bit longwinded, but I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to be heard. I’ve gotten some nasty, ill-informed rants from some “fans” so I’d love to set the record straight. I’ve gone over some of the figures and facts with my manager to make sure I’m being accurate.

I think the fundamental issue here is that artists, creators, be fairly compensated for their work, and for the value that their work represents to a third party who is using that work to build a business. It’s like the guy who opens a corner store. He’s probably going to want to sell milk. So to do that, he has to go to the farmer or distributor and negotiate what he’ll pay for the milk. Simple as that. He can’t just open the store, take the milk, and decide at his whim later on, what, or even if, he pays for it. Or decide to pay the farmer only if his store succeeds.

As you know the current interim rates expired in 2006, and the Broadcasters requested a new CRB hearing to argue for lower rates. The Broadcast industry spent millions of dollars preparing and presenting their case, big and small, NPR, Commercial and Non-Commercial, they all had their day in court and hired economists and big shots to plead their case. The CRB announced their findings in March indicating an increase from the old interim rates. Of course the Broadcasters are totally up in arms as they were fighting for a very substantial roll back from what the old rates were. But the CRB came up with what they thought was fair. What, in this world costs less today than it did 5 years ago?

Again, here’s what is at the root of the issue. I think music has become totally undervalued. It is one of maybe 5 things people consistently say they can’t live without. But somehow there’s a disconnect when it comes to PAYING for it. All of these entrepreneurs want to build businesses where music is the essential element, but they don’t really want to have to compensate the people who create that element, or if they are forced to, they only want to pay what THEY want to pay. They say their business plan won’t work if they have to pay. Well maybe they need a better business plan.

And who are “they”? Take a second and go to this link on the Digital Media Association site. This is a list of who belongs to DIMA. DIMA is the trade organization that is funding and sponsoring the “” campaign. 90% of all internet radio is controlled by multi-billion dollar corporations, and/or venture capitalists who are investing hundreds of millions of dollars so that they can make hundreds or even billions more. They are using scare tactics and trying to turn fans against artists, like me, who are willing to stand up for our rights. As a result I’ve gotten some incredibly nasty e-mails from people saying they’ll never buy my records again, and that I’m going to be responsible for putting internet radio out of business. Please!!

It’s hard to create and sustain a business, I know it first hand, but no one’s offering me the things I need for my business for free. I have certainly paid my way. Some businesses succeed, some don’t, simple as that.

If you really put it into context, it’s hard to believe the uproar. Using the proposed 2007 rates, and using the average listener formula that the “Broadcasters” themselves use (1 listener, listening to 15 songs per hour, 40 hours a week), the cost for that listener would be $0.66. Does anybody really think that is going to put AOL or Yahoo out of business? If Sirius can pay over 1/2 billion dollars for Howard Stern do people really think paying $0.66 a week for 40 hours of non-stop music is the thing that will put them out of business?

Of course there are the “small web-casters” (mom and pop, commercial and non-commercial), and NPR. And perhaps some of those entities still need more time and help to establish whether their business can survive. FYI, these entities represent less than 10% of the internet broadcasting business. But they have been offered substantial exceptions to allow them to continue to find their way. They can get a blanket license for $500 per year. That’s NOTHING! If their listener-ship exceeded a certain level they would have to pay higher rates, but one has to assume that at that point they have a business that is working. OK, some ventures might go out of business, probably will, but that happens in every enterprise. Not everyone will survive. 90 per cent of the artists at my level are struggling to survive.

I think internet radio is great, ESPECIALLY the small webcasters, commercial and non-commercial, NPR etc., but I also support fair compensation for the use of music. And, I think I would rather support and trust an impartial group of judges, the CRB, given all the relevant facts, to determine what “fair” should be, rather than relying on DIMA, Yahoo, AOL, XM or Sirius to decide what I should get paid. Isn’t that a little like asking the fox if there needs to be a guard on the chicken coop?