The U.S. Copyright Office Levels the Playing Field Between Terrestrial and Internet Radio Stations
Can it be true? DiMA, the RIAA and me, all in agreement? Okay, it's only for a minute, and only partially, but hey...anyone looked to see how Frosty the Snowman is doin' in hell? Don't put on your bikini, yet...
The U.S. Copyright Office finally made traditional media stand up and take their lickin'. The Copyright Office ruled that traditional (terrestrial) radio stations who also air their shows via webcast, are responsible for the same licensing fees as pure webcasters. Now simulcasters have to fork over the compulsory licensing fee as well. One for the web!!! Hilary was happy, Jon Potter was happy, and presumably Sonicnet, Echo, Launch, etc. were pretty psyched, too!
Oops! Not so fast, gang. As Inside.com's Warren Cohen reports: "The Copyright Office's ruling, as it now stands, may limit the choices webcasters can offer listeners in determining what artists and songs they can hear, and how often they can hear them. Because of the decision, webcasters who offer services that are too interactive may now lose their eligibility for certain compulsory licenses for sound recordings, forcing them to negotiate with individual labels for the right to webcast their songs, a process that could be both time-consuming and expensive. The labels could also refuse to license their works to such sites altogether."
We knew it was too good to be true. What are 'interactive services'? When you're listening to something like Radio Sonicnet or Launchcast or one of your own - or someone else's - personalized 'radio' stations and you have the option to program your own station, that is interactive. Your programming only goes so far as deciding on the musical genres and styles you wish to hear, some bot decides the rest. Then, while you're listening and happily jamming out to Everclear and Nirvana and STP and Lyle Lovett and Pat Boone (it could happen!!), you'll occasionally have to be assaulted by the near-offensive strains of...Faith Hill, perhaps. You then have the option to press 'skip' and at Echo, you can even rate Faith, her song and the album. However, in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, stipulations were laid to make webcasting more like traditional radio broadcasting. Instead of allowing you free reign to program your 'all-Zamfir, all-the-time-panflute' web station, the listener had to experience a more terrestrial radio experience...some good songs, some bad, some voice in programming but not a very loud one. Terrestrial stations are limited, too. I know it seems like it's Britney, Britney, Britney, every half-hour on the half-hour, in fact stations are required - by law - to play far less than we think we hear.
The copyright act came down with this new licensing ruling for radio simulcasters (and, hey, it only really hurts Infinity and Clear Channel, the two companies who own all of American terrestrial radio, anyway). And they initially stated that it was 'doubtful' that the aforementioned services appeared to 'qualify as interactive.' Get the champagne!
Step away from the Veuve Cliquot. The copyright office came back and amended their mistake. Seems that it was 'doubtful' that the same aforementioned services 'qualified as non-interactive.' Drat! Oh well.
So much excitement at the U.S. government. Nonetheless, the radio broadcasters who want to play with the digi-guys have got to pay the piper. Inside.com's Warren Cohen says that: "...the government office set a new schedule for the parties to complete discovery in the arbitration proceeding, and called for the arbitration to begin on May 21, 2001. Once the license is set, radio stations and webcasters will not only owe that amount prospectively, but will become retroactively liable to the RIAA for the sums that have accrued since October 28, 1998, when the DMCA took effect."
We'll wait and see.
Clear Channel - www.clearchannel.com
DiMA - www.digmedia.com
Echo - www.echo.com
Inside.com - www.inside.com
Launch - www.launch.com
National Association of Broadcasters - www.nab.org
RIAA - www.riaa.com
Sonicnet - www.sonicnet.com
U.S. Copyright Office - www.loc.gov/copyright
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