Perhaps by now you've read in one place or another about the recent decision [pdf] by the US Copyright Office to hike Internet Radio fees. If you have, you surely already know that if this decision is allowed to stand, it puts the kibosh on the ability of any small-time webcaster (like PulverRadio) to remain viable going forward, AND it levels an absurd and crippling retroactive fee for all performances dating back to January 1, 2006. Put bluntly: Internet Radio as you know and love it is F'd.
Here's a quote from SaveOurInternetRadio.com that illustrates with some simple numbers what we're dealing with here:
Under this royalty structure, an Internet radio station with an average listenership of 1000 people would owe $134,000 in royalties during 2007 - plus $98,000 in back payments for 2006. In 2008 they would owe $171,000, and $220,000 in 2009.I bet if you've ever thought about this you already have a hunch, but the miniscule revenues the banner ads and affiliate links you see on this site don't amount to very much. Certainly not enough to stay afloat with that kind of burden.
In theory, the Copyright Office heard arguments from all sides, and made its decision after carefully considering all the facts. But the decision they made is to comply fully with the proposed solution from SoundExchange, an organization originally spawned from the dank, cavernous belly of everyone's favorite malicious overlord, the RIAA. To be completely accurate, SoundExchange is not officially affiliated with the RIAA any longer, though I hear they still share some villianous personnel high up the food chain. But, as Walter Sobchak once famously said: "Oh, come on Donny, they were threatening castration! Are we gonna split hairs here?"
There's an important distinction to be made between the copyright for the song and the copyright for the recording of the song. The songwriter owns the copyright of the song. The record company usually owns the copyright of the recording. When read about huge artists scoring record deals in which they get to "keep their masters," that's what's being referred to. The reason this is important is that both Internet and terrestrial radio stations pay royalties to the songwriter. But Big Terrestrial Radio doesn't pay a dime to record labels for broadcasting the copyrighted recordings. That's right, the new fees being imposed on Internet radio (and the fees we've already been paying to SoundExchange don't have a counterpart in the terrestrial world. Huge stations owned by huge corporations like ClearChannel don't have to pay the record companies. This can all be traced back to a decision by Congress in the 90's to distinguish between analog and digital broadcasts at the behest of the RIAA.
The RIAA. The myopic, heel-dragging, deep-pocketed, well-lawyered RIAA. Who deem it appropriate to insulate themselves from competition via legislation rather than meet it on a level playing field. Who extort monies from their own customers via bogus lawsuits, since they have so completely lost touch with reality that they're unable to provide a product the consumer wants in a form its willing to pay for. Who are now lashing out at legitimate Internet-based music services in a short-sighted money-grab that might kill one of the last remaining bastions of LEGAL music discovery left on the Web, driving consumers further and further down the rabbit hole of illegitimate file acquisition.
Who benefits from this?
Terrestrial radio? They're already done-for. They're pushing HD Radio, for God's sake. A more expensive product with inferior programming and an imperceivably higher aural definition. Yeah, that's going to make people listen to the radio again.
The Big Four who comprise the RIAA? Nobody could be more clueless. They've abused their customers (and now, their allies) for so long that they will NEVER rebound. And this is another step that will make less of their music available to the law-abiding public (if there even exists such a thing anymore). Sure, there will always be people buying old catalog. Pink Floyd will sell forever. But the major labels slipping further and further into irrelevancy, and everybody knows it but them. The argument that people may be waiting for their favorite song to come on PulverRadio so they can digitally record it, edit it to eliminate station ID's, ID3 tag it, and add it to their music collection is asenine. Your favorite song is only a few clicks away at The Pirate Bay. There, I said it. Go nuts.
The Consumer? If I need to explain to you how this is detrimental to the consumer, I question how you found yourself on this site.
Please, if you have a few minutes, sign a petition, write your congressperson, mailpoop the RIAA, or simply get more informed on this issue (a few links below). It's important.
**UPDATE** Commenter Chris suggested wisely that I include this list of RIAA labels: Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers, EMI (Capitol, Virgin etc). Don't give them your money.
[Save Our Internet Radio]
[Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN)]
[Save Net Radio]