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Save Internet Radio

Anybody who knows me can tell you I'm nothing if not an obsessive-compulsive radio freak. I love the radio and I love the rock 'n' roll, always have. I suffered mightily in my younger days when the suits took over the airwaves and shrunk the playlists to the point where you could inscribe them on the head of a pin. It hurt me so much, well, you'd have wept if you would have seen it. It was that bad. Now they're going to do it me (and you) again: The suits are getting ready to do to Internet radio what they did to regular radio decades ago - kill it dead. If you like the wonderfully diverse playlists of the kind of Internet radio shows listed on our handy (and somewhat dandy) Beachwood 24/7 Alt Country Internet Radio Guide, you'll keep reading and perhaps you can help me stop them.

What I've done is written to my Congresswoman to ask her to support legislation that's meant to counter a horrible decision made by an obscure panel of federal judges called the Copyright Royalty Board. They ruled that webcasters - from Internet-only outfits like Live365.com to terrestrial community broadcasting stations that stream their eclectic playlists onto the Web - will have to pay a much higher royalty rate to record companies for the right to webcast their artists.

Strangely enough, the new rate is exactly what the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) asked for. Instead of keeping the current system that treats webcasters the same as terrestrial radio, where they pay a manageable percentage of their total revenues to the industry, webcasters are now being singled out for what amounts to a death sentence. The Royalty Board granted RIAA's request to charge them per song, per listener, something totally new, which will result in webcasters' fees skyrocketing by between 300 and 1,200 percent! Many, many of them say it will be the end of their labors of musical love, which the vast majority of these "stations" are, dedicated as they are to nothing more than getting new music and new artists exposed in an ever-more stultifying terrestrial radio landscape.

old_radio.jpgHardly anybody is making any kind of real money on webcasting. But that's not what the RIAA and its grocery clerks, SoundExchange, believe. They see the growth of online advertising revenues in general and the sale of one or two ultra-successful websites as some kind of evidence that money is being made hand-over-fist, that music geeks with servers in their basements are greedily wringing their hands in anticipation over all the lucre they're going to rake in at the expense of poor struggling artists and the honest record companies that are just trying to make a modest living.

What crap. If online ad revenues are getting so great and will make up for the ruinous new fees, why hasn't there yet been a money-making online newspaper? This is the same kind of justification the government uses to allow big media monopolies - "Yes, Newspaper A and TV Station B can merge because there's so much new competition coming from the Internet." Yeah, from amateur bloggers who haven't figured out a way to make so much as a nickel online and who'll probably disappear as soon as Mom and Dad get back. The same is true for 99 percent of webcasters: They're amateurs who are doing it for the love of music, just as online journalists are doing it to "seek truth" in a world where that worthy goal has largely been abandoned by the media's corporate owners.

As anyone who has followed the exploits of the RIAA knows, its forte is heavy-handed enforcement tactics, especially when it comes to illegal downloading of MP3 music files. They like to bust into dorm rooms and harass Joe College as he uses the university's computer to distribute pirated music. And when it comes to outright theft like that, to my way of thinking, it might be OK to bust a few heads. I do believe that kind of thing can lead to a serious cut in payments to artists both big and small. Because of abuses like that, the industry is panicking over anything having to do with music and the Internet. Record sales are declining, and that has to be the reason, right?

But taking a similar scorched earth policy to Internet radio as well is just asinine and will only result in years of ill will and - this is the important thing - a lost chance for the record industry to actually use the Internet to help its own self by allowing thousands of small webcasters to pick up the slack created when the media biggies decided they weren't interested in playing new and exciting music anymore. That's the real reason record sales are declining. Don't beat up on John Q. Webcaster - put the blame where it belongs - on Clear Channel and its cut-rate, alienating programming formula.

The RIAA can't see the difference between webcasting - which is radio like any other kind of radio - and file-sharing, which is much more problematic. No one is grabbing "perfect copies" of songs off Web streams. No one wants to, just like they didn't use cassettes to record their favorite AM Radio songs instead of buying them in the '70s. No one is going to bother. And in the meantime, the record industry is going to use a sledgehammer to kill a gnat that could represent one of the few hopes it has of finding some way to stop its horrible slide into irrelevance. But it will require some vision and a bit of power sharing, things that always seem to be in short supply in the music industry. If they can't see the light and continue to refuse to negotiate something that will allow webcasters to survive, and if they want to use an industry-compliant copyright board to ram through unfair decisions, we need to ask Congress for help to Save Internet Radio. This week's Day Of Silence by webcasters has helped to raise awareness.

Like I said at the top, I wrote my Congresswoman to support a bill that would reverse the copyright board's decision and eliminate a July 15 deadline for webcasters to not only start paying the sky-high new fees, but cough up millions more because it would be retroactive to Jan. 1. I hope you can write too, and that way, not only can I save the Twanglist, but I can also keep finding great new webcasters to place on it for years to come.

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Posted on June 27, 2007


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