Musicians say Clear Channel cheats on pact


WASHINGTON -- An artists' rights group accused radio giant Clear Channel Communications of forcing musicians to give up their digital copyrights to get the airplay CCC is required to give under the payola consent decree governing the broadcasters' operations.

The Future of Music Coalition contends that Clear Channel is forcing independent musicians to sign a contract containing language that gives up musicians' rights to a performance royalty if the company uses their music for Webcasts.

"This is outrageous," FMC executive director Jenny Toomey said. "This is like the fox getting caught in the henhouse a second time and arguing that he shouldn't get in trouble because he was leaving the hens alone. He was just eating all their eggs."

A copy of the license agreement on WWDC 101, a Clear Channel station in Washington, includes language saying: "You grant to Clear Channel the royalty-free nonexclusive right and license in perpetuity (unless terminated earlier by You or Clear Channel as set forth below) to use, copy, modify, adapt, translate, publicly perform, digitally perform, publicly display and distribute any sound recordings, compositions, pictures, videos, song lyrics ..."

A Clear Channel spokesperson said "the FMC folks have it wrong."

"Clear Channel Radio has gone above and beyond to make this artist-friendly," spokeswoman Michele Clarke said. "The artists are in complete control of their musical work. They control whether they just want it considered for broadcast over the air, whether they want it considered for streaming online, whether they want it to be available for download or all three, and (most importantly) they have the right to terminate their license at any time upon notice to us."

In May, the FCC approved $12.5 million in consent decrees that settled payola allegations against four of the nation's largest radio broadcasters.

While the deal closed the FCC's investigation in the pay-for-play practices of Clear Channel, CBS Radio, Entercom Communications Corp. and Citadel Broadcasting Corp., the companies admitted no wrongdoing.

In addition to the $12.5 million payment, the broadcasters agreed to implement business reforms and compliance measures to prevent a recurrence.

While the consent decrees don't spell it out, the broadcasters made a side agreement setting aside more than 4,000 hours of airtime to local and independent artists.

At the time, commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said the side agreement was critical to getting the consent decree. Adelstein had made the issue a touchstone of his time at the FCC.

The digital performance royalty, mandated by Congress as part of the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recording Act that became effective in 1996, provides money for artists and copyright holders for songs played on the Internet, on satellite and over cable.

The royalty is split 50-50 between copyright owner, typically a label but sometimes the artists or other entities, and the performer. In March, the Copyright Royalty Board increased the rates that Webcasters must pay each time a listener hears a song.