WASHINGTON — Like any musician, New Orleans jazz clarinetist Michael White says he would love to collect royalty checks every time an Internet radio station plays one of his recordings.But not, White said, if the royalty payments force the Internet stations off the air.
White was in Washington this week for a concert and to lobby members of Congress to intercede and take steps to ensure that Internet radio continues.
White, 53, who recently released his first post-Katrina CD, “Blue Crescent,” said he accepts that few AM or FM stations, even the small number devoted to jazz, will play his songs. But he said he regularly encounters fans at concerts who tell him, ” ‘I found out about you on Internet radio.’ “
“A lot of blues, folk and jazz musicians make most of their money at touring concerts,” White said. “We’re not advocating destroying royalties, but want a royalty system that is fair with comparable media.”
There are currently hundreds of Internet radio stations, some of which cater to fans of music that will never make it on top-40 formats.
At issue is a decision by the Copyright Royalty Board last year to raise Internet royalty rates, calculated as a flat per-song fee for each listener. An association of Internet stations said that the fees would eat away all or most of their earnings.
Some Internet stations ceased operations in anticipation of the higher rates, but others are continuing, buoyed by a decision by SoundExchange, which represents major performers, not to seek immediate payment of the new rates until it engages in negotiations with Internet station owners. SoundExchange said that revenue for Internet stations is often higher than claimed by station owners, an argument disputed by the coalition of Internet station operators.
But White said Congress should step in to allow the Internet to continue to provide the kind of diverse programming not available on conventional or even satellite radio.
It’s been a difficult three years for White, who, like thousands of other New Orleans residents, lost his home during Hurricane Katrina, along with dozens of rare vintage instruments, thousands of recordings, footage of every filmed performance by Louis Armstrong, and his own recorded interviews with jazz greats. Most of the interviews can’t be re-created because the musicians are dead.
White has won support for his efforts from Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan. Both say they’ll push their legislation to roll back the royalty increases approved by the royalty board unless negotiations between SoundExchange and Internet stations are successful.
Not only do the stations help a diverse group of musical artists, Brownback said, but they also provide important programming opportunities for many churches and religious groups.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7861.