The Federal Marching Band
by Brian T. Majeski
Editor, The Music Trades (Wall Street Journal)
FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY, the music industry escaped the gaze of government agencies thanks to its small scale--$6.8 billion now in the U.S.--and its wholesome, noncontroversial products. Few things seem less deserving of federal regulation than a 5th grader with an oboe. On the rare occasions in history when prominent officials took notice, the magazine I edit, The Music Trades, ran celebratory headlines: "President Taft At Baldwin Piano Plant Opening," or "Clinton Says Playing Music Made Me President."
In 2007 the Federal Trade Commission launched a broad and far-fetched price-fixing investigation against instrument and equipment manufacturers. Far-fetched because it is difficult to imagine how makers of such disparate products--microphones, guitars, drums and keyboards--could fix prices. It took two years for the FTC to realize that it had no case, but only after threatening fines, conducting depositions and commandeering terabytes of corporate records.