Influencers: The New Payola?

Tags: Content/IP / Law Innovation

An Invitation Only Roundtable Discussion

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The birth and rise in the popularity of rock and roll in the 1940s and 50s were aided in large part by payola: payments directly from record labels to disc jockeys in exchange for “spins” of particular tracks. By that time, payola was nothing new, but it implicated new political, moral, and racial facets. Commentary from the congressional payola hearings in the 1950s and 60s supports the notion that the impetus of the newfound moral outrage against the decades-long practice stemmed less from a desire to preserve ethical business practices and more from a desire to preserve traditional class and race divisions, as well as to avoid a competitive threat to mainstream music.

The streaming evolution presents us with an opportunity to reevaluate content promotion from both an ethical and a legal perspective. Radio DJs – beholden to various federal and state anti-payola law and FCC guidelines around false advertising – are being replaced by social media influencers who are paid to promote tracks on new platforms like TikTok. It is unclear whether these influencers are governed by any applicable set of laws and the roundtable discussion aims to further examine and explore these issues.

Our 7th convening on our Intellectual Property (IP) Initiative will bring together experts from copyright, trademark, media, antitrust, and advertising law to explore how this new payola does and doesn’t look like traditional payola, and to ask what, if anything, might be done about it.


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