The row over Pandora’s campaign to cut its royalty payments has just stepped up a few notches, with the publication of an open letter signed by 125 music artists criticising the personal radio service in blunt terms. The letter is available online and in trade magazine Billboard, and was organised by SoundExchange and the musicFirst Coalition.

“We are big fans of Pandora.That’s why we helped give the company a discount on rates for the past decade,” opens the letter, before noting that Pandora is now seeing “skyrocketing growth in revenues and users”. Then the kicker: “Why is the company asking Congress once again to step in and gut the royalties that thousands of musicians rely upon? That’s not fair and that’s not how partners work together.”

With artists like Sheryl Crow, Missy Elliott, CeeLo Green, Billy Joel, Kiss, Ludacris, Maroon 5, Owl City, Katy Perry, Pink Floyd, Robert Plant, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Dionne Warwick and Brian Wilson among the signatories, the letter is a big PR problem for Pandora, which is used to playing the plucky startup underdog to the Big Bad Man of SoundExchange in past royalty negotiations.

‘Digital service screws artists’ is a hugely sensitive issue right now, as Spotify will attest to. As anyone who remembers UMG digital boss Rob Wells’ unflattering comments about Pandora will know, Spotify at least has the major labels in its corner in these debates – not always an advantage, admittedly. At a crucial point in its development, Pandora needs friends, and fast.

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