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Sony Admits to ‘Payola’ Scheme, Fined $10M

The New York State Attorney General’s office announced today that it reached a settlement with record conglomerate Sony BMG after a one-year investigation into the label’s pay-for-play tactics. Prosecutors alleged that Sony BMG routinely gave radio stations in money and expensive gifts in exchange for airplay for its artists. This practice in the music industry is also known as “payola,” and was famously exposed in a 1960s investigation of radio DJ Alan Freed.

“Our investigation shows that, contrary to listener expectations that songs are selected for airplay based on artistic merit and popularity, air time is often determined by undisclosed payoffs to radio stations and their employees,” said Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Investigators found several specific incidences of payola, including a bribe given to a radio programmer in Buffalo that was detailed in an interoffice email from Sony imprint Epic Records: “Two weeks ago, it cost us over 4000.00 to get Franz [Ferdinand] on WKSE. That is what the four trips to Miami and hotel cost.” The radio station in question, WKSE, also allegedly gave airtime to two other Epic artists — Gretchen Wilson and Good Charlotte — as part of that deal.

Sony BMG has admitted to wrongdoing, and, according to a statement issued by the Attorney General’s office, “has agreed to stop making payoffs in return for airplay and will fully disclose all items of value provided to radio stations in the future.” In addition, Sony BMG will pay $10 million dollars to the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors to fund music appreciation and education programs throughout New York State.

Official Press Release from the Attorney General