think tank

Pickin' and grinnin', taking D.C. to task

When Sam Moore turned to Steve Cropper during the recording of "Soul Man" with David Prater at Stax Records and said: "Play it, Steve!" he made rock and music history. I can't tell you how many times I've sung those same words to an imaginary Steve as I sang along to that recording or to the Blues Brothers' version.

What do you talk about when you meet the man who Rolling Stone named one of the greatest guitar players of all time? Well, you talk about guitars. While Cropper is a self-professed "Tele man," having recorded so many great songs with the legendary Fender Telecaster, lately he's been smitten by a Peavey.

Cropper was in town for the kickoff of the Copyright Alliance. The alliance is a new umbrella group trying to reverse the anti-copyright sentiment growing among the public and policymakers. Cropper was a representative of the 11 million Americans who depend on that little c within a circle (©).

"There are powerful forces out there that say we don't need copyright anymore," Cropper said. "Of course, that's a benefit for them, but they're trying to take something away from lots of people."

Saying the copyright industries are facing a worldwide piracy problem is not new, but they are also facing a more skeptical Washington as they attempt to push their agenda. The lawsuits the labels and studios have filed against helpless old people and clueless college students, coupled with the PR campaign waged by consumer electronics makers, broadcasters and others, have had an effect. Congressional protectors still abound, but the opposition is well-heeled, well-organized and unwilling to let copyright proponents alone inside what used to be their own personal legislative playground.

The copyright industries need to do the same. While the MPAA, RIAA, the studios and labels aren't bashful about promoting their self-interests, broadening the coalition to include photographers, authors and software writers helps expand the focus beyond the confines of Hollywood, New York City and Nashville. If the copyright industries hope to make inroads against their foes, they need to include people from more zip codes.

Take the record labels' battles with broadcasters, for example. The labels are everybody's whipping boy. People like me may love what Cropper does, but everybody loves to hate the big, bad labels. Their past sins and present problems make it easy for opponents to brush aside any legitimate policy arguments.

Broadcasters also have a built-in advantage. There's at least one of them in every district in the country. Old media may be fading, but it's still powerful. Outside of the major markets, no congressman makes a speech at the local Rotary Club without bumping into at least one station general manager.

The lawmaker might not understand what the DMCA does, or what Article 1, Section 8 says, but they know they need their local broadcaster much more than they need a bunch of actors and musicians.

Lawmakers have received more than 2,500 letters in support of the recent Copyright Royalty Board decision to raise the rate for digitally delivered music. That's a lot, but not enough. Lawmakers need to know that copyright effects the people who vote them in and out. Every day a lawmaker goes through his mail, he needs to open a letter or e-mail from someone who makes a living from that little c inside the circle.

"We want to make sure the legislators we vote into office don't get misled by those other groups and vote the wrong way," Cropper said.

To paraphrase Moore: "Write it, Steve!"