Web Radio Between A Rock And A Hard Place


A few months ago, the US Copyright board announced a rate hike in the fees it would charge to broadcast songs over the internet: .08 cents per song per listener, rising to .19 cents per song per user in 2010. Radio in the US has traditionally had a compulsory license: as long as you pay the rate set by the Board, the copyright owner can't stop you from broadcasting a song. Due to some savvy lobbying in the 1940s, terrestrial radio only has to pay the copyright owner of the song (usually the publisher), not the performer – ostensibly because the performer benefits from the exposure. Web radio, by contrast, has to pay performance fees in addition to publisher's fees, because web radio isn't financially powerful enough to lobby for a better deal. The rate hike, which was supposed to go into effect this week, only applies to the performance fee, so only webcasting will get hit – and it'll get hit hard .

But last week, SoundExchange offered a compromise :  annual fees will top out at $50,000, as long as the broadcasters implement DRM . On the internet, you can only have your cake if it's locked behind plexiglass so you can't eat it. The Copyright Board's rates are high enough that small broadcasters (and small here includes people like David Byrne, whose monthly playlists are a must) will have to choose between saddling their users with DRM systems that prohibit even fair uses of the material, when the DRM works well enough to allow playback on their systems at all, or simply shutting down.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of C.P. Storm .

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