NPR begins lobbying push to improve legal climate for music stations

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Noncommercial music stations will launch Tuesday a new alliance to lobby Congress for a better legal and regulatory environment for their work, including copyright reform, and to clarify public radio’s role in presenting music.

The noncomMusic Alliance includes about 80 public radio stations of all music formats, according to Mike Riksen, NPR’s VP for policy and representation, who discussed the effort at an NPR board meeting May 4.

“The ease and variety of music access is matched in complexity by the licensing and rights negotiations that everyone in music, including everyone in public radio music, must understand and navigate,” Riksen said. “This is a significant challenge, and it’s an obstacle to public radio’s primary mission of connecting audiences with the music they love and enjoy. And we want to do something about that.”

Terms like “noncommercial” and “not-for-profit” are not widely understood yet are important descriptions of how laws impact music stations’ activities, Riksen said.

Riksen and his team will unveil the new noncomMusic Alliance and discuss their strategy with station managers and program directors Tuesday at the 18th annual Non-COMMvention in Philadelphia. Triple A radio station WXPN hosts the gathering for noncommercial music stations through Friday.

“This is an important initiative as it [is] the first real cross-genre public radio music organization,” WXPN GM Roger LaMay said in an email. “The focus is on building the case for the value and impact of public radio music stations and building a legislative agenda with a priority on Copyright Reform.”

One challenge public radio faces: Stations and networks that record and post performances on YouTube and Facebook Live don’t own the intellectual property.

“We don’t own that,” said Jennifer Ferro, president of KCRW in Santa Monica, Calif., during a panel at last year’s Public Radio Program Directors conference in Washington, D.C. “The labels do. The artists do. And they are really excited to let us know they own that.”

“If you don’t have the intellectual property, how are you going to be a music curator?” Ferro said.

NPR and stations are entering a space occupied by other advocacy organizations such as Free Radio, A2IM, and SoundExchange, Riksen said, but none is working exclusively to represent noncommercial, not-for-profit public radio music.

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