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.