Pirates and Pirates

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

This week, the Pirate Party won 7.1 percent of the Swedish vote. The Pirate Party is a young, technically savvy political group who now occupy one of the eighteen seats Sweden holds in the European Parliament. One of their main platforms is the revision to copyright law and the decriminalization of Internet file sharing, or illegal downloading.

The Swedish Pirate Party was founded in 2006, and was given very little attention from the existing political parties at the time. In spite of the lack of support, the group continued to grow. Then, in April of this year, four men behind the Internet bit torrent site, The Pirate Bay, were found guilty of collaborating to violate copyright law. They were sentenced to prison. Following that legal decision, the Pirate Party experienced a surge of popularity and support. The group became the third largest political organization in Sweden.

With this election victory, it has become apparent that the prosecution of the men behind the Pirate Bay has only successfully served to mobilized an underground culture of politically savvy, technologically progressive individuals.

This is not just rogue group in Sweden. The Pirate Party in Germany also received a respectable portion of the vote, though not enough to assure a seat in parliament. And the Pirate Party has independent organizations in 20 countries, including the UK, the United States, France and Australia.

Meanwhile, back here in the US, music and politics are colliding as well. The Performance Rights Act had strong political support, but now is starting to look shaky. The bill calls for terrestrial radio to payout artists and musicians for airplay just as they do in every other developed nation. It cleared the US House Judiciary Committee last month by a 21 to 9 vote. But now, the powerful National Association of Broadcasters lobby claims they've got 220 representatives willing to block the bill, which would be enough to defeat it in the House.

On Monday, Representative Betsy Markey, a Democrat from Colorado sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging a delaye in voting on this issue.

Radio's argument is that artists already benefit from radio airplay by way of record sales. They claim that if radio had to pay a fee for playing music on the radio, they'd have to cut other considerations like community information and news.

This argument is ridiculous. Threatening to cut community services and news is simply radio's way of trying to sensationalize an issue without addressing it. The United States is the only developed nation that does not pay its artists a royalty for broadcast radio airplay. US Internet and satellite radio have already negotiated their rates. It's time broadcast radio stepped up to the plate and treat artists and musicians with the respect they deserve.

Music on radio has been the mainstay of the American culture. For the artists who create the works we have come to enjoy, this is not a passing hobby. Their hard work and focused efforts have earned them the right to market. Please don't treat them with such disrespect.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.