SXSW: Here's What Federal Policy Has to do With Music

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Music and government may not seem like they have much in common. But four panelists did their best to convince an audience at SXSW that they were, in fact, hopelessly intertwined.

"These issues are breathtakingly complicated," said the panel's moderator, Michael Bracy, policy director at the Future of Music Coalition. "How do you build a regulatory structure for a market that is changing so rapidly?"

This panel discussion focused on federal policy, but a similar panel taking place next week at Treefort will focus on state and local policy.

Calling attention to some of the ways that federal policy affects music, Bracy introduced FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel; Jacqueline Charlesworth, senior counsel to the registrar at the U.S. Copyright Office; and Dan Lurie, senior adviser to the chairman and director of strategic partnerships at the National Endowment for the Arts, who joined the panel via Skype.

They each offered a list of ways their work affects musicians' lives, in hopes of spurring action.

"One of the things we feel strongly about is that policy gets made by who shows up," Bracy said.

From Rosenworcel: the allocation of spectrums to licensed and unlicensed devices, the upcoming move to radically expand the number of low-power noncommercial community radio stations and the battle over net neutrality. Her take was that all these items affect the ability of musicians to make and distribute music, and they ignore them only at their own peril.

From Charlesworth: upcoming overhauls of copyright policies that have been in place for about a century, and everything from the song-by-song licensing system to doing something about the ability of artists to bring copyright infringement suits of less than $350,000 to court.

From Lurie: the importance of getting arts stakeholders together to be part of larger community planning discussions.

"The affordable housing program in Chicago, my hometown, has everything to do with keeping that community as a vibrant source of culture," he said. "But I don't think that's something the music community is very aware of."

To close the panel, Bracy asked each of the panelists what people could do to make a difference.

Across the board, the answer was simple: get involved. One specific way offered was for musicians to band together and write five-page letters to the FCC in their region to put something on record about the impact a locally broadcast community radio station would have on their community. Those letters would then be considered when the FCC begins going through applications for the hundreds or thousands of new low-power noncommercial stations expected in the next several years.

"What you'll find in Washington is the overwhelming majority of people there are music fans," said Bracy. "They want to do right by musicians."

Then to close it out, he added: "Thank you for joining us in here for this. Depeche Mode was across the way. I hope you didn't know that."

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