A Stain on the People’s House: The Fraud of DiMA, CCIA and NAB’s Secret Meeting in the People’s House
Yesterday, the lobbyists for Pandora, Sirius and Clear Channel held a “staff briefing” in the Rayburn House Office Building entitled “Governing ASCAP and BMI”. What they left out of that title was any reference to songwriters–of course if the title was “Governing ASCAP and BMI Songwriters” that would have had a certain antebellum tone. Not what Pandora was going for.
So understand what this is: An invitation only meeting held in the public offices of the U.S. House of Representatives conducted by lobbyists to advance their agenda. These kinds of meetings happen frequently on Capitol Hill in the people’s buildings and can only be held if a Member of Congress authorizes the use of the meeting room. What that means is that somebody’s lobbyist calls and asks for the space, and then lobbying teams work on inviting the “right people” to the presentation. And if you think that the presentation is fair and balanced, think again.
I’ve been to a number of these meetings and have even been a panelist on one that was held by a non-profit think tank. There is always an opportunity for questions from the floor, and I have never seen a moderator refuse to let anyone ask a question.
But then they’re not all promoted exclusively by lobbyists, much less three lobbyists like the one held by Pandora yesterday. Were there campaign contributions involved? Who knows.
This a description from the flyer for the panel (courtesy of David Lowery):
There were no professional artists on the panel, and the panel was hardly “diverse”. These people knew that there were no professional artists–in fact, it’s a little odd to mention artists as the issue because the consent decree involves songwriters. The kind of language mistake you would make if you couldn’t tell the difference between an artist and a songwriter. You know, like if you were a Washington lobbyist for the tech or broadcast industries. You can also be sure that lobbyists and consultants poured over this language and that it was not just dashed off in a hurry. So assuming that the promoters of this panel were not stumblebums who didn’t understand the issues, this sure seems like an intentional misstatement or maybe even what we call a “lie”.
David Lowery took them up on their invitation and attended the meeting–the only professional songwriter in the room (or artist for that matter). He was not invited to participate in the meeting, he just attended a “public” meeting in the People’s House. I put “public” in quotes because it was one of those meetings that’s “public” if you know it is happening.
You should read David’s account of how he was treated at this “public” meeting that advertised itself as seeking “diverse” points of view from “artists”, but the headline I want you to focus on in this post is this: Once Greg Barnes of DiMA was informed that David Lowery was in the room, Mr. Barnes established a new rule for the People’s House–only staffers were allowed to ask questions. As Lowery notes in his post, Mr. Barnes called on a law student and others who may have been staffers, and I also understand that he called on a PRO representative after David left. But while David was there, Mr. Barnes evidently decided that the best way to deal with an artist was to define them out of the conversation.
According to Communications Daily:
The shirts [see David's post to understand the shirt part] were from his band, which “has nothing left to lose except the shirts on our backs,” he said in an interview. The bags were addressed to the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), NAB and the Digital Media Association (DiMA), all of which support consent decrees and had representatives on the panel, Lowery said. The example of consent decrees should be in “every textbook about why government meddling in the affairs of private business is wrong,” he said. “All of this is completely upside down.”
Lowery’s “outburst was completely inappropriate and caught many congressional staffers by surprise,” said Gregory Barnes, DiMA general counsel, who moderated the panel. [Because they didn't realize just how frustrated songwriters are with the consent decrees?] “Theatrical performances are best left to actors and tantrums are best left to kids,” he said. Barnes was “totally out of order,” said Lowery, who felt some members of the audience didn’t want Barnes to allow him to ask a question of the panel. “If they want to run me out of Congress, I don’t really care.”
This quote from Mr. Barnes is unfortunately reminiscent of the condescending attitude of The Man 2.0. Mr. Barnes does not seem to understand that he was dealing with a supplier–a songwriter. In the case of DiMA member Pandora, this is the supplier of his member’s only product–music. He would be well advised to be nicer to suppliers. Last time I looked, Pandora has completely squandered much of the goodwill they’d spent years building up with the creator community. (See the Billboard’s August 10, 2013 cover story “World War P: The Battle Against Pandora” for details.) There is, perhaps, a simpler explanation for why there weren’t more songwriters and artists in the room–they didn’t know any.
But that Mr. Barnes was permitted to engage in this censorship in a public meeting in a public building of the U.S. taxpayer’s is simply shocking to me. I can only assume that the Member of Congress who authorized the use of the room was unaware that this censorship was taking place or they would have moved to stop it before it started. Leave aside the fact that David has testified before the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Barnes should not be allowed to censor any member of the public who wishes to speak in the People’s House. If he wanted to control the information flow, he should have had a private meeting don’t you think? But then a private meeting would not have the aura of “transparency” so craved amongst the Silicon Valley crowd.
On the off chance that the Member who authorized the use of the room was in on the censorship, we need to see a clear statement from the Member as to what the ground rules were for the use of the room. Because if it was part of the plan that songwriters were to be prohibited from speaking at a “staff briefing” held in the House Judiciary Committee meeting rooms, a “staff briefing” that itself was about songwriter liberty, there is something really, really wrong.
Mr. Barnes shameful conduct of this “staff briefing” is a stain on the People’s House and Members should want it expunged.
Updated to include Communications Daily quote and detail.