RIAA squeeze audio Webcastsers

There was some significant news at the end of last week that will affect/restrict the breadth of music you can listen in the future.

The dispute that’s been rumbling on since 1998 between the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and audio Webcasters, widely know as Internet radio station. The RIAA wanted all Internet radio station to pay a fee to playing music, which most felt was reasonable. The major dispute has been about the level of the fee that is paid. On 20 June, 2002 the US Library of Congress set fee rates for playing music tracks over the Internet. The levels summarised on their site leads one of the many station that has been affected, somaFM, calculate that their DAILY fees would be $500 or $180,000 a year. somFM also say “Don’t listen to the RIAA press release that says most small webcasters will only pay the minimum $500 a year. Any station with more than an average of 5 concurrent listeners will be paying more than that minimum.”

Many of these stations are run by enthusiasts, many of whom made no money and others who spent money from their own pocket. Using their specialist musical knowledge and lead by their enthusiasm, they put collections of tracks together that exposed their wide audiences to music they were excited to hear.

While collect high royalties from Internet radio stations, allegedly more than 100% of their current collective revenues, the RIAA is using the argument that “Internet radio airplay hurts CD sales”.

This is opposite case for both me and many other listeners. By having my choices widened and I have bought more –one of the problems may be that these purchases have been from non-major labels and they don’t like it. The major labels must be frustrated by the fact the people are not interested in their ‘product’ and through lobby pressure they have forced a situation where the small originators find it financially impossible to survive. I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to fill the void this leaves.

There are two killing blows, the fees mentioned here apply to non-subscription services, subscription services have to be negotiated separately and the second is the fees are back date-able to 1998 making the successful, long term stations the hardest hit. With the shock of Internet radio stations being turned off now and not waiting until 1 September, 2002 when the actual rates become effective, they hope to force the listeners to take action by contacting their representative urging them to act.

Sadly the most recent ruling and apparent conclusion don’t do anyone any favours long term. A broad and vital source of exposure to different types of music has been halted.

I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Internet radio, it’s just that the choice we will be given will be significantly limited – diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the Internet.

European RealOne SuperPass opens

RealNetworks yesterday opened the European version of their paid-for content network, RealOne SuperPass. The US equivalent, launched in December 2001, has become a significant contributer to their income.

To my eyes, the European offering is a less content for more money with a direct dollar/pound translation of the 9.95. It will be really interested to watch the subscription figures on this one.

Telewest start 1Mb service

UK cable company Telewest have announced the wide availability of their 1Mb Internet service, following its Scottish trial. Costs vary between £35 and £40 a month. As with all of these services with large sounding performance numbers, I’d be interested to read their Service Level Agreement (SLA) to see if this performance is in any way guaranteed.

Non-MS Media player for Xbox

Some clever characters have written a media player for the Xbox. Currently running videos on DivX 3 & 4, it will soon have MP3 and Windows Media capabilities as well. This kind of thing has been on the Dreamcast for a while by bedroom developers, and given the supposed ease of development of the Xbox, I would have thought it’s something Microsoft would want to encourage. Apparently they’re trying to take legal action to stop it.

Boeing Connexion announce in-flight broadband access

Boeing Connexion announced a three month trial starting in February 2003 with British Airways to provide the non-coach class passengers with Internet access directly from their own laptops and the ability to what streamed video and live TV in their seats. The service to the plane can receive at up to 20Mb/s and transmit at 1Mb/s but this is clearly shared with everyone on-board. It is thought that the charge for the service will be around £20 per flight.

Boeing are throwing a lot behind this service, having recently gained the first FAA certificate for such a service, this long-vaunted idea makes a lot of sense to Boeing as they build/own satellites as well as aircraft. They also made a feature of the service on May 23rd when the visitors to Boeings’ annual investors conference witnessed a live video-conference between Boeing President Scott Carson and System Development Director Ed Laase, while Lasse was speeding through the sky separated horizontally by 1,000 miles, vertically by seven miles.

Liberty make further moves on Telewest

A further move by Liberty sees them gaining additional control over Telewest, this time indirectly. Liberty already owns 25% of Telewest stock and by allegedly buying Telewest’s bonds (debts) not only will they be able to strongly oppose decision they don’t like but they’re buying it at a 40% discount. Another smart move by John Malone’s company.

AOL announced UK broadband pricing

AOL today announced their UK broadband service at 1p short of £35/month. Not only does it cost the consumer £5 more than most of the other offerings, but as they are based outside the EU, they won’t be liable for VAT, so they will pocket the 17.5% extra. AOL defend the higher price by saying there’s going to be some content exclusive for their users. Clearly the whole package will make them considerably more margin per user.

Interestingly, AOL will be offering subscribers a dial-up connection with the broadband subscription. They say it’s to allow their customers to access the Internet when not at home, some of the more-blooded current ADSL users might say it’s to substitute for when the ADSL connection goes down.

Movie88.com re-appear as Film88.com

You may remember Movie88.com from last year, you could log on to the Taiwan-based site and play complete Hollywood movies for around US$1. The Hollywood studios got upset about this and leaned heavily on the Taiwanese Government to get them shut down, which the were successful in doing in February this year.

They’ve now open up again under the name Film88.com and the clever-cookies have based their servers in Iran – which hasn’t had a diplomatic relationship with the US for a few years. This article suggests that the only approach to get the site shutdown is to ask the naming authority, Verisign, to rescind the domain – which I personally can’t see a legitimate justification for.

The unauthorised placing for copyrighted material on the Internet has always been a threat to copyright holders and a concern, but the idea of it actually happening from a country that they have absolutely no influence over must have movie world crying in their cocktails – and other copyright holders.

XtremeSpectrum announce Ultra-Wide Band compatibility

Only a day after the FCC published its First Report & Order about the public use of UWB (Ultra-Wide Band), XtremeSpectrum announce that they will comply with all items. Very fast work?, or more the fact that they’ve been working with/lobbying the authorities in this area for the last 2-3 years and therefore had a very strong idea what was going to be coming. They feel the manufacturers that will be using their UWB chipset could have their products in the stores this xmas – giving everyone up to 100Mb of very-local wireless access – Bluetooth on speed if you like.

Broadcast Protection Discussion Group draft proposal

The US general public probably don’t currently know who the Broadcast Protection Discussion Group (BPDG) , or in fact they may never know, but one thing is for sure – if the BPDG’s recently drafted proposal is taken up, the public’s understanding of TV shows and their ability of record them will change for ever.

The core of the idea is to ‘ensure no analogue leaks’ (their words) from the broadcast of shows to the point they hit your eyeballs – by forcing all electronics manufacturers to build-in decryption just before it’s displayed on the screen. There are many things wrong with this approach, some of them highlighted in an EFF blog.

We await to see if the decades of media group lobbying has been good value – as it is thought that BPDG will next approach Congress and the FCC to support the proposal.