Thursday, March 15, 2007

US ruling could kill Internet Radio - like Pandora

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) issued a ruling that could spell the end of Internet radio, a decision which could spell the end for a lot of stations, including services like Pandora, which I use regularly. (For more about Pandora, see this previous post about the service.)

Here's a brief synopsis of the CRB decision (from the iPod Observer)
A ruling to change how royalties are collected from independent Internet radio stations has the potential to drive many of the sites out of business. The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), a U.S. government agency tasked with overseeing the royalty process, decided to change the way most small Webcast stations are charged from a percentage of revenue to a pay per song and listener model.

The new royalty rates are scheduled to go into effect in about two months. If implemented, the change could increase royalty payments for the smaller stations by ten times what they are currently paying. In some cases, the new rates amount to more than a station's annual income. That translates to a substantially smaller group of available stations in iTunes' radio list.

The ruling has stunned a lot of people and it's taken awhile for its full impact to sink in. But there is a growing backlash building.

What really bites about this is that so-called "terrestrial radio" stations, the large companies that control most of the over-the-air music, are exempt from these same fees, thanks to the way the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) was written back in 2001.

Tim Westergren is the founder of Pandora, and writes the blog for the project. He's been running regular updates on what's been happening, especially how his audience is beginning to mobilize to lobby for changes.

He's posted a link to an online petition (I'm not sure whether Canadians can register, but it can't hurt, right?) as well as links (here, here (may require subscription) and here) to other articles about this issue.

Personally, I don't listen to a lot of Internet radio, but I have in the past. And I really like Pandora. It's introduced me to a lot of music and artists that I would never have known about otherwise.

It's difficult to understand the thinking of groups like the RIAA, which are obsessed with closing down the option of anyone listening to their music unless there has been a direct payment made. It's short-sighted and will spell the end of big music as a business. That's probably not a completely bad thing, but if they take down so many other businesses with them, we all suffer.

The irony is that this copyright ruling only applies to companies that are based in the US. What is likely to happen, according to some commentators, is that the existing companies will declare bankruptcy, then move their server to another country, where they will be able to re-establish themselves.

If that strategy works (although there will be a lot of pressure brought on other countries to impose similar sanctions) things may not be quite as dire for some of these companies as they appear. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, RAIN (Radio and Internet Newsletter) is a free, on-line newsletter that carries regular updates and reports on what's happening.

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