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I Respect Music: Artists' Pay for Radio Play

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Inspired by the over 40,000 "likes" that Blake Morgan received last December on his Huffington Post article, "Art and Music Are Professions Worth Fighting For," Morgan decided the time was right to launch a petition, I Respect Music, supporting a musician's right to receive pay for radio airplay.

The idea for I Respect Music was born in an op-ed I wrote for The Huffington Post in mid-December. Once the article went viral and passed 40,000 'likes,' it was clear that the idea -- and those three words -- had resonated far more deeply than anyone could have expected.

It turns out that United States is the only democratic country in the world that doesn't pay artists for airplay and shares that distinction with a handful of other nations including Iran, China, North Korea, Vietnam and Rwanda.

So far, with little fanfare, the petition has received nearly 10,000 signatures and brought much-needed attention to one of many inequalities facing artists today.

On Tuesday, February 25, the newly formed NYC Chapter of the Content Creators Coalition will be staging a free concert and rally, Artists' Pay for Radio Play, featuring David Byrne from Talking Heads, Marilyn Carino, Mike Mills from REM, John McCrea from Cake and other guests.

The timing couldn't be better. Congress, for the first time since 1976, is reviewing and rewriting copyright law and doing so within the context of the Internet and the digital distribution of creative works. The stakes couldn't be higher, as the creative community and Silicon Valley struggle to find a middle ground that will serve both sides.

To say the creative community is overmatched in power, money and influence would be a serious understatement. But the situation is not hopeless. After all, artists are gifted communicators. If they choose to step forward, unite and share their concerns about their survival in the digital economy, artists can move the needle of public opinion.

Fortunately for artists, after over a decade of standing in the shadows of the Internet, the darkness is finally lifting and musicians, filmmakers, authors, photographers and all artists are finally speaking out about their future. A future that is unravelling right before their very eyes.

The value of copyrights is being quickly depreciated, a crisis that hits hardest not best-selling authors like me, who have benefited from most of the recent changes in bookselling, but new and so-called midlist writers. -- Scott Turow, president of The Authors Guild.

Because of artists reluctance to speak out in the past, the serious struggle that mid-level artists are experiencing is something only the artist community is really aware of. People who aren't working artists have no idea how devastating ad-supported piracy has been; let alone how difficult it has become for artists to receive reasonable compensation for their work on the Internet through legal sites.

Fortunately, last year was a breakout year for musicians speaking out. In addition to Blake Morgan, Lou Reed, Don Henley, David Byrne, The Black Keys, Thom Yorke, Zoe Keating and others have stepped up, joining artists like David Lowery, who has been on the front line of this debate for years.

In a recent interview in the L.A. Times, Don Henley had this to say:

.... My musical brethren and I are no longer artists; we're not creators -- we are merely "content providers." Copyright and intellectual property mean nothing to the technocracy. They've built multi-billion dollar global empires on the backs of creative, working people who are uncompensated.

For many, music is simply the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks.

People, especially those who grew up with the Internet, don't see art as work and believe that unlimited exposure is the best thing that ever happened to artists. Tragically, after being available for free for so long on thousands of ad-supported pirate sites, music is now perceived by many as valueless.

But if artists can't earn a living from their work, how can they continue to focus and commit to creating?  And as a society how much do we value music, film, literature and all art forms in our lives? These are important questions that need to be addressed before it is too late.

There is no question that those who represent technology will aggressively move their agenda forward in Congress on Copyright reform. Reform that will favor their business interests over the future of art in America.

Could I Respect Music be a beginning, where more artists join together and start a loud, public conversation about fair compensation and greater control over the distribution of their work?

Blake Morgan is opening the door with this petition; it's a numbers game. If you're a musician or a fan and you haven't signed the petition you need to ask yourself, why not?