“The Onion” Had RIAA’s Revenue-Generating Strategy Figured Out Long Ago

May 22nd, 2007 // 15 Comments

Yesterday, the LA Times ran an article on the RIAA’s efforts to collect royalties from broadcast radio stations, who have, since radio’s inception, not paid artists and labels after playing their songs. The argument for letting radio off the hook for these royalties revolved around the idea of radio stations offering free promotion for singles and albums, thus spurring sales and getting money into artists’ pockets. Now, though, with sales in the tank, the RIAA is looking to establish a royalty structure for over-the-air broadcasters, and legislators like California representative Howard L. Berman are on the organization’s side.

The weird thing about all this? It was probably unintentional, but the Times piece curiously echoed a 2002 piece from the satirical newspaper The Onion titled “RIAA Sues Radio Stations For Giving Away Free Music.” After the jump, we pair three sets of quotes from each article, and invite you to sniff out which quote is from yesterday’s story, and which was culled from the prescient parody. It’s actually a little harder than you might think!

1. The Artist Quote

Mary Wilson, who with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard formed the original Supremes, said the exemption was unfair and forced older musicians to continue touring to pay their bills.

“After so many years of not being compensated, it would be nice now at this late date to at least start,” the 63-year-old Las Vegas resident said in Milwaukee, where she was performing at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino. “They’ve gotten 50-some years of free play. Now maybe it’s time to pay up.”


RIAA attorney Russell Frackman said the lawsuit is intended to protect the artists.

“If this radio trend continues, it will severely damage a musician’s ability to earn a living off his music,” Frackman said. “[Metallica drummer] Lars Ulrich stopped in the other day wondering why his last royalty check was so small, and I didn’t know what to say. How do you tell a man who’s devoted his whole life to his music that someone is able to just give it away for free? That pirates are taking away his right to support himself with his craft?”

2. The RIAA Talking Head Weighs In

“The creation of music is suffering because of declining sales,” said RIAA Chief Executive Mitch Bainwol. “We clearly have a more difficult time tolerating gaps in revenues that should be there.”


“It’s criminal,” RIAA president Hilary Rosen said. “Anyone at any time can simply turn o a radio and hear a copyrighted song. Making matters worse, these radio stations often play the best, catchiest song off the album over and over until people get sick of it. Where is the incentive for people to go out and buy the album?”

3. The broadcasters speak

“Congress has always recognized that broadcasters generate enormous sums of revenue to record companies and artists in terms of airplay,” said NAB Executive Vice President Dennis Wharton. Radio stations also have public-interest obligations that satellite and Internet broadcasters don’t have to worry about, he said.


“Radio doesn’t have the same sound quality as a CD,” said Paul “Cubby” Bryant, music director of New York radio station Z100, one of the nation’s largest distributors of free music and a defendant in the suit. “Real music lovers will still buy CDs. If anything, we’re exposing people to music they might not otherwise hear. These record companies should be thanking us, not suing us.”

Okay, okay, so all the “A” answers were from the Times piece. But admit it–that Lars Ulrich bit had you fooled for a minute, right?

RIAA Sues Radio Stations For Giving Away Free Music [The Onion, 10/2/02, via The Velvet Rope]
Artists and labels seek royalties from radio [LA Times, 5/21/07]


  1. Spiny Norman

    Now, let me see…hmmm…Let’s kill off Pandora and LastFM, then let’s kill off college radio and NPR music reviews. Let’s get XM to merge with Sirius. That way Clear Channel will be the only voice and we’ll only have to make the new Akon record because no one will hear any of that other nuisance music. Our production costs will drop and, since our prices never do, our profits will rise.

    Long live the mix tape! Die Corporate Music, die die die!

  2. TurdsAndWhey

    The Onion: more real than reality.

  3. Dr. Marv

    Un. Be. Lievable.

    I worked in local radio for over a decade and would like to clarify that while the RIAA wasn’t getting any money (poor things), royalty fees are regularly paid to ASCAP and BMI. They take a random sampling of the station’s playlist (AKA “logs”) for a given week then estimate how royalties are doled out based on their samplings across the nation. So if ASCAP and BMI are making sure that the royalties are at least being paid to the songwriter (if it is a different person than the artist), then why should the RIAA be given sway to double dip?

    This isn’t just some conjecture. As music director, I was the one who had to keep track of the logs and send them to ASCAP when commanded to. So it’s legit.

    Where does this crap stop? Is the RIAA going to start suing people for humming their favorite tunes? Lunacy!

  4. AcidReign

    …..I thought commercial music radio was ALREADY DEAD! Every time I scan my car radio, I hear newstalk, sportstalk, or gospel. Well, yeah, we do have country, rap, and the ubiquitous “adult-contemporary” stations. Even those are wall-to-wall with commercials. Sure, RIAA. Keep choking that chicken…

    …..Idolator is now where I hear most of my new music. I see links get yanked down pretty quick, but the music bigwigs should realize that these “illegal” posts have helped to sell me at least a half-dozen CDs in the past six months.

  5. chocomel

    “They take a random sampling of the station’s playlist (AKA “logs”) for a given week then estimate how royalties are doled out based on their samplings across the nation.”

    in college, we used use this week to make sure all our favorite artists got paid. it was our hope that in feeding 3-4 plays of a performer through their algorithim would result in the assumption that they were getting a respectible amount of airplay (and thus mo’ money) across the country. don’t know if it worked, but it made for a fun week of programming.

  6. Death

    It’s pretty funny how prescient the Onion is. They also called Gillette going to a 5-blade razor.

  7. Moogs

    Wow, I thought for sure that quote 1A’s Potawatomi reference was a Wisconsin shout out from The Onion.

  8. AcilletaM

    @Moogs: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing at first. Only taking the easy shot at Lars could convince me otherwise.

  9. I and also my guys ended up reading the great ideas from your web page while suddenly I had a horrible feeling I never expressed respect to the web site owner for those strategies. All of the people became certainly happy to study them and now have very much been using these things. Appreciate your truly being quite helpful and for choosing this kind of amazing subject matter most people are really needing to be aware of. My sincere regret for not expressing appreciation to you sooner.

Leave A Comment