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"Save Internet Radio"
Wolfgang Staehle

posted by steve on Monday May 20, @07:19PM   

"Save Internet Radio" was recently posted on Thingist by Wolfgang Staehle. Write your Congressperson today.

Dear Jerrold Nadler:

I am writing you to express my strong fear that the U.S. Copyright Office may be about to make a decision in the next few weeks that will bankrupt and effectively destroy the Internet radio industry.

I am the director of The Thing, a non-profit arts organization (http://bbs.thing.net) in Chelsea. We are just about ready to to embark on an Internet radio project intended for the international arts community. We have also been consulting with curators and artists at PS1 in Queens about an Internet radio project that officers of that institution would like to realize in the near future. To make it short, there is a lot of interest in Internet radio by cultural and arts institutions.

Internet radio is a perfectly legal new medium that offers wonderful benefits for musicians and record companies as well as for consumers. (Record company revenues from CD sales may well be at risk in this "digital millennium," but that's due to the phenomena of MP3 file sharing and CD burning, not due to Internet radio.)

As required by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), however, the Copyright Office is obligated to set a "sound recordings performance royalty" rate for Internet radio. But the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP) that was convened last summer has reached a conclusion that is probably far more draconian than anything Congress intended.

For most Webcasters, the critical issues in front of the Librarian of Congress are:

(#1) The CARP arbitrators set a royalty rate far higher than the rate for composers' royalties (based almost exclusively on a single deal during the height of the dotcom craze between Yahoo! and the RIAA).

(#2) The CARP arbitrators recommended a fixed price per song streamed per listener, rejecting a alternative "percentage of gross revenues" royalty concept that both sides had previously been willing to accept, and

(#3) The Copyright Office has proposed recordkeeping and reporting requirements, precisely as requested by the RIAA [Recording Industry of America], that are wildly beyond the abilities of most webcasters to fulfill.

Regarding the first two points above: The RIAA initially asked webcasters for a royalty of 15% of gross revenues. Webcasters initially countered by offering approximately 3% of gross revenues, in the range of the royalty they pay to composers. They could not come to terms, so the two sides went to arbitration in front of the CARP. The CARP's recommendation to the Copyright Office, however, is not a percentage of gross revenues at all, but rather a price per song per listener -- at a price that, even if webcasters could eventually achieve the same advertising success that broadcasters have achieved, would work out to a royalty rate of 20% of gross revenues! (That's a third more than the RIAA asked for!) Worse yet, in the current advertising environment, the CARP's proposed rate equates to a royalty rate closer to 200% to 300% of gross revenues!

Worse yet again, the royalties are retroactive to October 1998. For a popular independent webcaster that has had, say, an average audience of 1,000 listeners (fewer than a single small-market broadcast radio station) for the past three years, the bill for retroactive royalties would be $525,600, or a retroactive royalty rate of 500% to 1000% of their gross revenues to date.

It's hard to imagine that this is what Congress had in mind when it passed the DMCA.

In conclusion, if the Librarian sets a royalty rate along the lines of the CARP recommendation (and sets the reporting requirements as proposed), Internet radio as an industry will be effectively dead by the end of May.

I respectfully urge you to communicate to the Librarian of Congress that you and your fellow legislators, in passing the DMCA, did NOT intend for the royalty rate to be set so high (and reporting requirements so complex) that it would bankrupt the fledgling Internet radio industry.

Many of your constituents and I will greatly appreciate your attention to this concern.


Wolfgang Staehle
The Thing, Inc.
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  • http://bbs.thing.net
  • Digital Millennium Copyright Act
  • Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel
  • Recording Industry of America
  • Thingist
  • Jerrold Nadler
  • More on Public_Domain
  • Also by steve

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