A draconian decision by the little-known Copyright Royalty board that jacks up royalty rates on both big corporate and smaller Internet broadcasters seems likely to silence the most inventive Internet radio broadcasters, such as Pandora. These stations allow listeners to hear or select a wide variety of music. Yesterday, many of them went silent to protest the likely impact of the ruling that is scheduled to go into effect July 15.
But the recording industry's front group, Sound Exchange, is using a smoke-screen of sophistry to claim that only big corporations, like AOL and Clear Channel, are seeking to lower the royalty rates, while the biggest damage will, in fact, be felt by local NPR stations, college stations' websites, and those inventive sites that allow us to hear new music while still paying artists their royalties, such as Last.fm and the glorious free-for-all that is Live365.
All this may sound technical, but Web radio is a vital alternative given the desert that is commercial radio, thanks to the monopolization of huge conglomerates, such as Clear Channel, that have turned the pop music industry into a marketplace for lowest-common denominator pablum. Ironically, Clear Channel can weather the huge increases, even as its predatory practices have made Web radio the essential alternative to provide intelligent music and give important new artists the exposure they deserve.
In Colorado, for instance, the local NPR affilliates and independent stations are facing a major financial obstacle, as reported by the Durango Herald: "While commercial radio conglomerates such as Clear Channel Radio can afford the added costs, the higher fees are beyond the capabilities of local stations such as KDUR in Durango, KSUT in Ignacio and KOTO - each of which plays more than 20 hours of recorded music daily and has spent thousands of dollars in recent years to add streaming technology.
The stations each pay annual dues to either the CPB or the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and the larger organizations pay copyright fees with the dues. " Now their streaming Web content could end -- and that of thousands of other NPR affiliates and Web-only radio stations.
There are bills pending in Congress, and a hearing is scheduled tomorrow, Thursday, before the House Small Business Committee to overturn the Copyright Board's short-sighted actions, but it's not clear that Congress will move fast enough to reverse the Copyright Board's harmful actions. If you want to find out how to contact your member of Congress to support the Internet Radio Equality Act -- and preserve your access to good music and new artists beyond the narrow framework of Clear Channel-approved hitmakers, go to SaveNetRadio, a coalition of artists, listeners and Web stations. As SaveNetRadio explains:
The future of Internet radio is in immediate danger. Royalty rates for webcasters have been drastically increased by a recent ruling and are due to go into effect on July 15 (retroactive to Jan 1, 2006!). Webcasters across the country participated in a national Day of Silence this week to increase awareness about this looming threat and gather support for the SaveNetRadio collation and our campaign to preserve music diversity on-line. The Internet Radio Equality Act is currently being considered by both the House and the Senate. This bill will set royalty rates for Internet radio equal to the royalty rate paid by satellite radio, and has gained over 120 cosponsors in the House.
Internet radio needs your help to survive. We need you to pressure your representatives in Congress to take action. Please take a moment to call your Congressional representatives in the House and Senate to ask them to co-sponsor the Internet Radio Equality Act. Making your voice heard will go a long way to helping preserve the Internet radio industry. Time is running short, so please call your representatives today.
Add your voice now -- or the richness of music you expect to find, legally, on the Web won't be there after July 15.