Those of us who pay close attention to the music industry -- and record companies plus performance rights agencies in particular -- have reason for concern with its seeming obsession about controlling music over the Internet.
I have no problem with record (side note: Why are they still called "record"?) companies making a reasonable profit. Note the word "reasonable."
But some of the music industry's heavy-handed tactics are beginning to go too far.
* Record companies are attempting to have Congress pass a bill which would require radio stations to pay artist royalties for songs played over the air. They claim all countries except a few dictatorships already require this. How ironic: Comparing one of our freedoms to communism.
*Thousands of over-the-air radio stations and many net-only operations which web stream (as opposed to over-the-air broadcasting) are appealing a ruling which would require paying royalties equalling a ridiculously-high amount of their profits.
*An official of Warner Music Group -- one of the largest music companies -- says his firm will pull his artists' songs from free, ad-supported, on-demand Internet music services such as last.fm. The firm prefers services such as Rhapsody, where users must pay $12.99 to $14.99 per month (that's $156 to $180 per year, folks) just to listen.
What possible difference should it make whether the money comes from advertisers or users -- unless the record industry's trying to create a mindset of "pay for everything you hear" among listeners?
Now consider another aspect: The days of radio as a source of music in its current form may be limited as in-car computers and online audio streams become the preferred form of mobile "reception."
So: Is the music industry attempting to take advantage of many lawmakers' lack of knowledge or interest in the music business to legally gain total control of music on the Internet in America? And, in the process, gain the control they've never had over radio -- and create an environment in which the ability to listen to music for free disappears?
Those record executives need to consider their actions more closely.
Musicians can replicate a studio environment today with a laptop computer. As a result, London's famed Abbey Road Studios -- a still cutting-edge operation and the home of The Beatles' recording sessions, among many other groups' -- is for sale and, so far, no buyer's been found.
In these days when technology is available to anyone, do artists really need contracts with record companies? All radio has to do to avoid paying royalties is play songs by unsigned artists who can distribute their own work by simply posting MP3 files for download.
Music companies' survival may lie in treating consumers like valued customers and over-the-air/online music sources as partners -- and allowing free listening to continue. But alienating the very consumers needed for survival is NOT the way to remain a viable business.