When the world ends, when it crumbles and the last musicians are standing on a cliff, damned to hell, a scrappy lawyer will trot onto god's playing field to save them. It will be difficult, a high-wire act over flame. These poor souls, these artists, they will go through trials and tribulations. Eventually, hopefully, our hero lawyer, who never got to be President but was the biggest man, will save them -- when the world ends. Until then, they're stuck in the middle of a singed rope.
These poor souls! How did it come to this? How did these musical artists end up in such a fix? In 50 years, if our giant of a lawyer can help, if the way business is done changes, apologists will say it was bad luck. Bad luck is a quick, blanket statement that covers all the legal turmoil and copyright battles and creative rights wars that small, independent artists struggled with. Our poor artists would sew the seeds of creativity and receive only blight and famine. Stores of music, locked away with no means of broadcast! What but bad luck would drive these men and women to throw their hands up and be done with the whole business?
It's enough to make one sell their rights to the devil. The devil, looking down on his hot rock, sensed a very shrewd business opportunity. Our artists, though as down-and-out as any Dust Bowl farmer -- good people that they are -- were unwilling to sell. Not wanting to miss out on a deal of an eternity, the devil sent his top salesman, Clear Channel.
Clear Channel sidled up to our artists as they tended the fields of the few outlets of broadcast that were still available. The artists dropped their hoes when they heard Big Radio's case: "Sign over your digital performance royalties to us, and we'll play your music!"
One musician loudly objected, "But you're supposed to play our music anyway, on account of your settlement with the FCC for your payola scandal!"
The devil's salesman smirked and boasted, "4,200 hours worth, for free. Alls' you gotta do is sign over your rights, and it's yours! If you want airplay, sign, sign, sign!"
Another interjected, "But this is America!"
The smirk only grew as the salesman exclaimed, "Exactly!"
He had them, he really had them. The artists talked amongst themselves, wondering what they did to deserve such horrid treatment. Bad luck, perhaps. Greed from Big Radio, more likely. Some signed. And yes, life did get a bit better. Others didn't, and all were outraged. Then, shining from above, our giant stomped onto the scene.
A modern-day Daniel Webster, the collective force of the FCC and the Future of Music Coalition, looked Clear Channel in its eyes. This was something the devil's salesman wasn't used to. Perhaps the artists' luck was about to change. Perhaps. Clear Channel stepped back, shuddering, giving way out of surprise. The devil has a keen business sense, and knows that much of a good deal comes from good timing. Today wasn't the right day, tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow.
As for now, everybody is friendly. Clear Channel has revised the agreement: "In the instance when Clear Channel makes the decision to use the content for terrestrial broadcasting and, as a result, for simultaneous transmission through online streaming ... Clear Channel shall be subject to and pay for all applicable current and future statutory royalties as well as public performance royalties." Friends. Tomorrow, the devil's salesman will wait in the tall grass.
How does it end? Unfortunately, we come into this tale in medias res, and only time will tell what will happen. Artists are hoping to extend their public performance rights to include over-the-air broadcasts, but the future looks grim. Bad luck. So much bad luck, hanging over fire, today and tomorrow, stuck between the devil and our Daniel Webster.