Thursday, August 04, 2005


In the 1920s the RIAA sued broadcasters to get them to STOP playing music. That's right kids. The record industry's "anti-airplay" platform lasted well into the 1930s.

We begin at the beginning... By the early 1920s, RCA was mass-producing commercial radios. While the radio didn't sound as good as the phonograph, it was still free. The recording industry was incensed and attempted to sue the radio stations to prevent them from playing recordings on the air. The first judges presented with this issue decided that if the radio station had purchased a copy of the recording they had a right to play it; since there was no law preventing it. It was a big set back for the RIAA.

In general, the 1930s were a tough period for the record industry. It was competing against the free content offered by radio stations in the great depression. The industry, dominated by 78 RPM records with a playing time of as little as three minutes per side, hit bottom around 1935. The juke box offered them something of a last minute reprieve. Yet the situation continued to be hampered in the 1940s by the wartime shortage of raw materials. The record industry concluded that they suffer when stations broadcast pre-recorded music. Their conclusion rested on two primary assumptions:
ONE - Consumers will not buy records when they could hear them on radio.
TWO - U.S. copyright law required that radio stations pay royalties to composers, lyricists, and publishers but not to record companies.

First, the New York Supreme Court ruled that if radio stations purchases a record, they were free to broadcast it ­ even when it bore a "Not Licensed for Broadcast" inscription. Displeased with this ruling, the dominant record firms pursued plans for obtaining fees from stations that broadcast pre-recorded music. To this day, they have still failed to get radio to pay the record labels for airplay.
In 1942, arguing that the new jukeboxs were putting live musicians out of work, the American Federation of Musicians declared a ban on recording. The AFM went on strike on August 1, 1942 in an attempt to get record companies to establish a fund for unemployed musicians. Most of the smaller and independent companies signed new contracts almost immediately; Decca signed a contract in September 1943, and the other major labels followed suit in November 1944.

Moving against the popular corporate wisdom, Capitol Records believed that broadcasting recordings would stimulate rather than harm sales. In search of airplay, Capitol promoted its records at radio stations. It was the first record firm to service free recordings to disk jockeys. it caused a dramatic increase in record sales. Unable to ignore Capitol's successful "pro-airplay" model, other dominant record firms followed suit.

Sounds familiar yet? The free music, doesn't sound as good as the original recorded media, but its popular, because its free. The then RIAA tries to sue the "offender" into submission...etc. A lots of bright folks see a parallel between the RIAAs recent desperate assaults on P2P platforms and their previous 1930s foolishness. I tend to agree. They've had a long history of resisting change, litigious zeal; and selective perception. Great article here.