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Music Is All About Politics
By Eric de Fontenay (Founder & Publisher)
(more articles from this author)
2003-07-14
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Last week, the Webcaster Alliance accused the RIAA of entering into a collusive agreement with certain large webcasters "intended to eliminate competition in Internet radio, which would in turn harm the distribution of independent music which competes with RIAA material." Now the group has joined with Boycott-RIAA to call for an ethics investigation of the Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner for accepting an $18,000 junket to Taiwan and Thailand to chat about copyright law. "When the recording industry pays for the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to level threats at these governments, it creates an appearance of influence-peddling."

Unlike their major counterparts, the independent music sector has lacked, with a few exception such as the Future Of Music Coalition, any cohesive voice to represent their specific concerns. Accusations of anti-competitive practices by the RIAA and labels have been a point of discussion ever since it was raised as an issue in Napster's legal defense and followed up by Kazaa's Sharman Networks antitrust suit, which was recently rejected by the courts. Any legal action engaged by the Webcaster Alliance, on the other hand, will not be dismissed as easily (Sharman Networks' suit was dismissed because, as a software distributor, it does not compete with the major labels) and raises valid concerns not only for the potential of collusive behavior among the majors, both labels and webcasters, but of the RIAA favoring its own members, such as AOL TW, over unaffiliated small webcasters. The issue, that has been noted several times in this newsletter, not only impacts the fate of independent webcasters but the broader indie music community that depends on these outlets to reach their audience, particularly among under represented genres such as Blues or World Music.

While the RIAA's Asian junket should raise serious concerns for Thai and Taiwanese officials, the broader issue of accountability for the powerful Judiciary Committee Chairman and his ties to big music business is the real target. Ironically, it was DiMA, which represents "digital media leaders" such as AOL, RealNetworks & MTVi (some of whom were signees to the disputed webcasting agreement), that rushed to Chairman Sensenbrenner's defense, and indirectly the RIAA's.

Is this the opening of a serious political voice for the independent music community? This will depend on the support provided by that community, generally considered apathetic and disunited, in providing the same grassroots support that has effectively demonized the FCC media ownership process and rules. Easier said than done, but not inconceivable...


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