Pandora, ASCAP and the FCC All Deserve to Get Ripped

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I love the people at Pandora (P), particularly Tim Westergren. For the most part I have nothing but good to say about ASCAP. In fact, ASCAP President Paul Williams impressed me so much that I instantly consider him a personal and professional friend.

That said, I pride myself on calling it as I see it and, as Williams himself has said, seeking the truth. And the truth is the back-and-forth that continues to take place across this Internet radio royalty dustup is hardly productive and as bad as, if not worse than, any useless political theater we have seen since mindless babbling over things like swift boats and birth certificates.

Following this Internet radio story has become intellectually painful. It's like watching the interview that Fox News anchor did with the "Muslim" (the impressive professor Reza Aslan) who wrote a book about Jesus over and over and over again.

My recent article history captures much of the lunacy from the flat awful media coverage to the baseless attacks from Pandora's critics to Pandora's irritating inability to shift the conversation to a more productive place.

And there's the FCC. The Federal Communications Commission. I waited until the fourth paragraph to mention the FCC because it's the most irrelevant agency in the history of agencies that actually have enough power to make somewhat relevant decisions.

The latest isn't even worth a link: ASCAP has petitioned the FCC to block Pandora's purchase of an FM radio station in South Dakota because of Pandora's ownership structure. Foreign investors own a combined stake in the company that apparently puts it over the limit that prohibits purchase of an American radio tower.

Whether I agree -- or anybody else for that matter -- agrees or disagrees with ASCAP or Pandora or whatever the FCC decides is neither here nor there. It's time to halt the rhetoric, procedural and legal maneuvers on every single side of this multi-faceted and complicated debate and act.

When I tell Paul Williams he ought to sit down with Tim Westergren, he tells me he can't because of lawyers and lawsuits. When I offer the same suggestion to Westergren, I don't really receive a satisfactory response. This FCC story and my anecdote represent just one illustration of what's wrong with practically each and every aspect of the myriad issues involved here.

We have a better chance of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians than we do a suitable royalty arrangement between distinct Internet radio players such as Pandora and Spotify and groups and boards representing or setting rates for all those involved in the creation and dissemination of music (labels, performers, publishers, songwriters, composers, etc.).

I have already suggested the idea of a summit. Every single side -- from the songwriters to Pandora to the people at MusicFirst -- has shot it down. Apparently, they prefer to continue with legal proceedings and bitter fights played out in Congress and through the media. Again, this entire thing mirrors political "debate." Each and every player involved should be absolutely ashamed of this.

I can't, in good conscience, tell you that any of the people I have talked to in this debate -- and there have been plenty -- really give a damn about the health of the broad music industry, particularly independent artists. Each player has an interest or two and it's that interest or two they remain stubbornly focused on. It's maddening. And, if it continues, we will never see a resolution. At least not a good one.

But, ultimately, Pandora deserves a considerable amount of blame for where we are. More than anybody it could act to change the tenor of the game. There are so many startups in operation today doing incredible things, seemingly under the radar, to incite real change. To put on display the power of tech, data and the Internet to generate new sources of optimism and even revenue for artists of all sizes. Ticketfly. GiggedIn. Soundwave. The list goes on.

However, to a person, the folks I talk to do little more than nod their heads and smile when I bring up these names and the refreshingly innovative things they're doing.

Right now we have what is effectively gridlock.

The various moving parts of the music industrial complex refuse to recognize the power of companies such as Spotify and Pandora (yet, they gobble up anything Apple ( AAPL) forces on them). From there, the music industry and large-scale Internet radio refuse to acknowledge what these small, but potentially disruptive firms can bring to resolution of the various debates that cripple all stakeholders.

If something constructive is actually happening "behind the scenes," somebody better move fast to make it public with actions, not empty words.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola's daily contributions to TheStreet frequently appear on CNBC and at various top online properties, such as Forbes.

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