Never doubt the power of the lobby. Despite all the public uproar over the rising royalties levied on online radio broadcasters, paid to the recording industry, Congress is now considering putting similar royalties onto traditional broadcast radio.
The fact that no royalties are paid by radio stations to the owners of the “performance” on a recording (typically a record company) is the result of a law passed a half-century ago that specifically exempts radio. The rationale behind the law is that radio provides promotion for the music roughly equal to the profit derived by playing it. Now suffering from over a decade of bad business decisions, the recording industry is again turning to Congress to help save it from itself by biting one of the last hands feeding it.
On one hand it’s hard to get worked up about this effort. I find it hard to empathize with either Clear Channel or Warner Brothers in this battle. But as a community broadcaster I am more concerned about the effect of royalty payments on noncommercial stations that do not profit from the music they play.
Another big concern is the possible extension of internet radio restrictions to broadcast. In particular, the DMCA places limits on the number of songs from a particular artist or album that can be played in a row, and within a specific amount of time. These are silly restrictions to begin with. While they are intended to thwart listeners who want to rip an album side from a net radio station, the reality is that ripping internet radio streams is pretty lousy way to obtain free music compared to file sharing and other methods. Mostly, they just add a layer of senseless bureaucracy and limitation to internet stations.
So forcing these restrictions onto broadcast stations is similar stupid and would disproportionately affect community and college stations, which tend to play more freeform mixes of music. And, in a other instance of biting the hand that feeds, these stations also tend to play to a more loyal music-obsessed audience.
According to the Broadcast Law Blog’s analysis of the bills in Congress the House’s version of the broadcast royalty bill would put these restrictions on traditional radio, and the Senate’s wouldn’t.
Who knows how far these bills will go, especially since they pit lobby against lobby. While the internet lobby was just getting its legs when the DMCA was passed, the NAB is an experienced old hand at pressing its interests in Congress. Nevertheless, I think if Congress is really willing to go forward with this nonsense some kind of exemption for noncommercial stations ought to be included at the very least–something that should have been included for internet stations to begin with.