|A blog for commentary regarding the music of today (and yesterday...and the day before...)|
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March 22, 2002
So long Internet Radio...
There are only two words to sum up how I feel about the latest legal developments in the world of Internet radio: awww, HELL.
You probably have no idea what I am talking about. You would only understand it if you were an Internet broadcaster yourself, or a really, really active listener. I am going to try and give you the "Idiot's Guide" version of all the happennings, and trust me, it's the only one I understand, too.
One day in the 90s someone woke up and declared, "Internet! Let's make some money!" and the World Wide Web as we know it was born. See, at the beginning the Internet was utilized for research and education, and the only folks who had access to it were universities, a few corporations, and some pretty crafty hackers. The folks who ran the show decided to open up the medium to the public, and all of a sudden the thing exploded into a commercial landscape of AOL, Yahoo!, and all the millions of other websites that we surf today (further, did you know the Internet was invented by the Department of Defense? Did you know that while you are reading this very rant you are using a tool of nuclear warfare????).
This scared the crap out of a lot of people. Remember that "dotcom" bubble? Millions of dollars made and then lost within a two year period when everyone thought they could run an online company (we miss you urbanfetch.com! we really do!). That brief period was extremely threatening to the big corporations that thought they would loose revenues because of the transfer of business to online technologies.
Enter the federal government. The feds looked around and said, "Uh oh. We have a whole new distriubition medium going on!" It became evident early on that once something appeared on the web it became "free" and the distribution of information was spiralling out of control. This was a heck of a lot worse than the invention of the tape recorder or VCR. The feds decided to enact legislation that would help ensure that copyright laws were not violated through the new digital medium that we know and love as the Internet.
With the assistance of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRA) came about in 1995 to protect copyright holders, and then the Digital Mellenium Copyright Act (DMCA) came along in 1998 to provide specific guidelines for the use of digital information.
These documents together enact laws to protect copyright owners, and allow them to sue the pants off people who misuse copyrighted material (the DMCA is what gave the RIAA the right to sue Napster). The DMCA specifically addresses the issue of Internet broadcasting, ie the presentation of real-time, streaming audio material over this digital medium. The act was groundbreaking, because for the first time it stated that the record companies were entitled to performance royalties from a broadcast medium. FM radio does not pay royalties to record companies. But the feds considered digital music to be a more "perfect" copy of the original recording (as opposed to the analog transmission of AM/FM radio), so they decided there was a huge danger of illegal duplication and distribution. Thus, the record companies had to be protected.
Now comes the fun part. The act says that it is okely-dokely to broadcast audio recordings over the Internet as long as certain rules are followed. Mostly they refer to the length of programs, what artists you can play, etc. etc. They closely resemble the rules governing terrestrial (AM/FM) radio. Ever notice how a DJ on FM radio will tell you the artist that is coming up, but will never explicitly tell you the name of the song? Or how about the fact that you rarely hear the same artist for two songs in a row, and never hear a whole album played from start to finish in its entirety?
If you follow their rules, you are granted a statutory license to broadcast over the Internet. However, you also need an ASCAP and/or BMI license, which provides authorization to perform copyrighted works. An artist registers their compositions with one of these associations, and they negotiate on behalf of the artist for royalty payouts from radio stations and other organizations.
Here's a real life example: live365.com wants to host Internet radio stations. Their programming adheres to federal rules so they are granted a statuatory license as per the DMCA. They buy a blanket license from ASCAP to cover the performance rights of every piece of copyrighted material ASCAP has registered (which is about 95% of all the music that exists), and the money they give to ASCAP is distributed to the registered owners of recordings, and therefore the artists and publishers get their cut.
I hope you're still with me. I'm a little confused, too, but let's see if I can wrap this up concisely.
The DMCA said it was up to the RIAA and the webcasters to determine the appropriate fees for record company royalties. They couldn't agree on anything. So the US Copyright Office set up the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP) to determine an appropriate rate for webcasters to pay the record companies.
CARP just came back with their recommendations. They are ridiculously expensive. Especially since they require webcasters to pay retroactively back to the enactment of the DMCA, which was October, 1998. Without getting into the details, large corporate broadcasters such as Yahoo! and Launch will be able to write a nice fat check and be done with it. However, smaller companies that work with the average joe broadcaster (such as myself) will effectively be shut down by the exorbitant fees.
Here's the pisser. Not a dime of that money will go to the artist. This is for the record companies.
Now that you know what's going on, here's my rant about the whole situation:
2. Streaming Internet radio is not a widescale distribution medium. Internet broadcast radio is not an in-demand MP3 service. You have to listen to it as it comes over the broadcast; the listener has no control over the playlist. It is not like owning a Rio or iPod and downloading songs from Napster to load up and make your own super-fly mixes. Internet radio is a programmed, non-interactive service for playing MP3s. There is software that can be used to "capture" Internet streams, and with a little computer savvy a person could extract the MP3s and give them away. However, given the DMCA, this is illegal; and therefore the feds should go after the people who program this type of software, not punish the web-broadcast hosting companies.
3. Streaming radio promotes artists. Terrestrial radio does not pay record company royalties because of the belief that the airplay promotes the artist, and therefore leads to greater record sales. This same argument can be applied to Internet radio. Enough said.
4. Internet radio promotes artists who otherwise do not get airplay. Terrestrial radio is hampered by programming restrictions. Corporate executives sit in an office and under pressure from record companies decide that Britney Spears should be played once an hour, but Radiohead just isn't "poppy" enough for the airwaves. Internet radio provides a medium where independent and lesser known artists can get worldwide airplay. A listener in Argentina, say, can turn on a computer and be exposed to music that they may have never heard otherwise.
5. Internet radio can only assist in increasing record sales. Given point #2 (Internet radio cannot be distributed because of the nature of the streaming format), and especially point #4, Internet radio can only aid record companies in increasing CD sales, especially for smaller record labels and independent artists.
Look. I can accept the fact that webcasting companies have to give the record companies some money. That is the law, as per the DMCA, and I'll be content to follow the federal government's mandates, even though I disagree with them. My issue is with the fees that CARP has come up with. They are unrealistic in an economy where the Internet marketplace is no longer a predominant player in commerce.
Oh dear, wasn't that a loaded sentence. Allow me to justify my statement.
I worked for an online entertainment company (a "dotcom", if you please) and I have seen first hand how the costs associated with operating an online company far exceed the revenue that can be generated through standard business models. Internet business is currently in a holding pattern as companies revise their business models into a manner that will generate revenue. The dotcom economy failed because online businesses took their cues from television and radio, relying on advertisting to generate income. However, when it costs $200,000 per month in servers, bandwidth, technical support, e-commerce vendors, and all the other fess associated with online business (this doesn't even include employee payroll, mind you), a few cents per click on a pop-up ad are not going to drive the company into a profit. Live365.com, for example, used to be free. But they saw the reality of the situation and started charging a small fee for their services. They have been able to stay afloat because they found a new business model: fee-for-service.
Unfortunately the majority of Internet users are unwilling to pay for stuff on the web. Face it: we're spoiled. We've had all this information and multimedia for free since the birth of the World Wide Web, and paying for the privilege of using it just doesn't sit well with the majority of websurfers. It will take some time before subscribers get used to the idea of paying, and companies start generating a consistent profit.
The RIAA and the federal government are amazingly shortsighted in this respect. In 1998, the domination of online companies and e-commerce was a reality. I can understand how the fear of an Internet economy drove the DMCA into action. But four years later the outlook is completely different. I humbly invite every Congressman and RIAA executive to visit Fucked Company and find out what is really going on with Internet businesses. They are laying off employees. They are filing Chapter 11. They are closing their doors. A good example is Spike Radio, an online entertainment/webcasting site that was around only for a year because they couldn't make any money.
The companies that survive best are the ones that have major real-world coprorations behind them. AOL from the begnining was an ISP (Internet Service Provider), and currently generates revenue through monthly access fess. MSN has the mutil-billion dollar backing of Bill Gates and Microsoft. Even HOB.com and barnesandnoble.com exist because they have real-world businesses to feed their operating costs. Sonicnet is run by MTVi, which is associated with MTV, which belongs to Viacom, who also owns VH1, Nickalodeon, and all sorts of other stuff.
Websites operate economically only if they are used to back up pre-existing corporations.
Getting back to the point. All this being said, the only webcasting companies that can afford to pay the new royalty fees (an "Internet tax" is more appropriate) are professional services and large corporations such as Yahoo!, MTVi and AOL. The small companies that are still trying to feel out the Internet economny and generate consistent revenue are going to close up shop. That is all there is to it.
Most of the Live365.com and Shoutcast radio stations are run by independent, non-profit broadcasters, such as myself. The variety of music that is being playing on the Internet today is enormous. And it has been made possible by these small services. Even Live365.com charges a few hundred dollars a month for professional broadcasting services. But as an independent broadcaster, who runs a station for an independent artist, those professional services are not an feasible option. And I submit that most independent artists and broadcasters are in the same position as I am.
So, my dear readers and listeners, we are looking at the downfall of a medium that has been instrumental in promoting independent musicians and small record labels. Without Live365.com and other small webcasting services, we will be listening to the big guys; Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Launch, etc. etc. Their programming is just like that of terrestrial radio: they play only what they are pressured to play, locked into pre-programmed playlists that leave little if not zero room for the independent musician's voice.
Could I buy my own server and set up my own little station? If I had the money, sure. There are other options if small webcasting companies go out of business. But when I see a law that is based on false assumptions, and an outrageous fee schedule based on said assumptions, I see a serious injustice.
And something needs to be done about it.
You can pay a visit to Save Internet Radio for ways in which you can help. Mostly this involves writing your Congressman. Personally, I am dedicated to being outspoken and spreading the facts about this issue; the best I can do is disseminate information, and that's what this little rant is all about. If you see an erroneous error in my facts or logic, please point it out to me. I want to make sure the information I relay is valid.
Here's where I got most of my facts, feel free to check them yourself:
posted by DJOktober at 12:59 AM | link this post!
...80's music Rushmore? I nominate Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran), Mike Reno (Loverboy), Pat Benetar, and Dale Bozzio (Missing Persons). (OK, really, I couldn't think of anyone really deserving after Simon and Pat...)
And there are a few more music entries in there.
Chaotic Dischord -- Bob and the Boys
Suicidial Tendencies -- Institutionalized
Dead Milkmen -- Big Lizard
Neurotic Outsiders -- Jerk
Dead Kennedys -- Viva Las Vegas
Sex Pistols -- Friggin' in the Riggin'
The Circle Jerks -- When the Shit Hits the Fan
Yello -- Oh Yeah
Trio -- Da Da Da
Julie Brown -- Cause I'm a Blonde
Thomas Dolby -- Hyperactive
Tones on Tail -- Go
Falco -- Rock Me Amadeus
Beastie Boys -- Girls
Revolting Cocks -- Beers, Steers and Queers
Ministry -- Jesus Built my Hotrod
The Timelords -- Doctorin' the Tardis
Meat Beat Manifesto -- I Am Electro
Eiffel 65 -- Blue
Mousse T. v. Hot N' Juicy -- Horny
Basement Jaxx -- Where's Your Head At
Basement Jaxx -- Do Your Thing
This almost illustrates a chronological map of how my musical tastes have shifted over the years. Most of the punk stuff from the beginning I was listening to in High School (except the Neurotic Outsiders which are from 1996; check out this Steve Jones website for more information on them). There are three tracks from the Repo Man soundtrack, a movie I watched at least five dozen times ("Driving makes you stupid..."). The Dead Milkmen rocked my world for years; I saw them at least six times in concert. I used to own the Chaotic Dischord LP "Goat Fucking Virgin Killerz from Hell" (which enraged my parents, of course) and I was always so distraught that I missed the eras of the Sex Pistols and the Dead Kennedys.
The 80s tunes actual pre-date the punk stuff; I am a child of MTV and the video for Thomas Dolby's "Hyperactive" remains branded in my memory to this day. Same with the Julie Brown clip; would you believe I didn't actually see Earth Girls are Easy until 1998???
Tones on Tail, Ministry, Timelords, Revolting Cocks and Meat Beat Manifesto all came along during my college years. This is when I got into industrial music. Unfortunately I didn't actually buy much of it (I was poor, damnit!); my introduction to this brand of music was in the NYC industrial clubs and via mixed tapes from friends. I was insanely thrilled when WaxTrax! (now WTII Records) released their Black Box set in 1994; it is a must have for anyone who dug industrial music from the early 90s (FYI my streaming station Oktober Musings plays a lot of this style of music).
And finally we have a few dance tunes. "Horny" is a nostalgia tune from my days at the Clit Club (a lesbian club in NYC that was made famous because Madonna used to stop by... *gasp*), "Blue" came out when I lived in Miami Beach, FL, and if you've read one of my first blog entries, you'll remember that Basement Jaxx is my current fave groove ("Where's Your Head At" is still my song of the week, by the way).
The cool thing is that I still genuinely enjoy all these styles of music. My musical tastes have expanded over the years, and have never tapered. I think the only music that I will still never enjoy is Country. Oh, and most disco; there's a ramble about that down below (under Yowza, Yowza, Yowza).
Does anyone want a copy of this CD? I love giving shit away, you know....Oh. And if anyone reading this remembers the house song that was from the early 90s and has the phrase "I'll Suck Your Pussy" repeating over and over again, please e-mail me; I need need need to know who sang it 'cause I must add it to my music collection.....