The end of Webcasting as we know it?


New guidelines under federal copyright law make online radio broadcasts more costly and burdensome





Environmentalists are no longer the only ones working to ''Save Our Streams.'' College students striving to preserve a man-made medium have adopted the slogan to identify their technological quest. The word ''stream'' is used to describe the online ''broadcast'' of radio programming, a means of communication that is just coming out of its infancy yet already facing extinction because of impending costs and restrictions.

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\n Webcasting enables a range of users to air radio-like programs to a potentially international audience. From Beatles' marathons to British indie rock shows, webcasters have known no limit to diverse content. The low cost and relative ease of Web-transmission have drawn individuals, major corporations, terrestrial radio and college stations to explore the medium. College stations have benefited especially, reaching more users than their weak radio signals allow while simultaneously learning the broadcasting trade.

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\n Despite the benefits of webcasting, new fees and regulations adopted as a result of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 may silence student-run Web streams. More than 30 college stations have ceased webcasting since the announcement of the requirements on June 20 and many others are unsure if they will be able to afford the costs.

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\n ''Web-based stations allow listeners to access music and ideas that would not necessarily broadcast over mainstream radio and other media outlets,'' said Nicole Benavente, the station manager at the University of California at Los Angeles' Web-only station.

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\nPlaying by the rules

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\n Librarian of Congress James Billington released a set of royalty fees on June 20 that webcasters will have to pay beginning Sept. 1. Stations can still webcast original news and talk shows without paying fees, but any copyrighted material, including recorded music, must be catalogued and paid for.

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\n ''It means a lot of stations won't be on the Internet anymore and for Web-only stations, that means a lot of those stations won't exist anymore,'' said Will Robedee, general manager of KTRU at Rice University and creator of the Save Our Streams Web site that tracks issues related to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

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\n The new fees will compensate artists for the use of their music. The rates are less than those originally proposed by the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel, charging seven-hundredths of a cent per song per listener for Web-only and commercial radio simulcasts and two-hundredths of a cent for noncommercial radio simulcasts. Stations will also have to pay all royalty fees for webcasts dating back to October 1998. Although the rates for Web-only and commercial stations were cut in half, the fees are still more than most student media say they will be able to afford.

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\n ''We were hoping to expand our normal broadcast online to more listeners, but now we're thinking we are just going to shut down the online branch altogether,'' said Patrick Waldron, the student station manager and former Web site director for Cayuga Community College's WDWN. The Auburn, N.Y., college shut down the simulcast of its broadcast station 89.1 FM shortly after the new rates were released.

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\n The new provisions require webcasters to obtain a statutory license in order to play copyright-protected material. A $500 minimum fee is required of all stations and once a station exceeds 20 concurrent listeners, additional copyright royalties apply.

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\n There are two types of copyrighted works embedded in a song. The ''musical work'' and the ''sound recording.'' Before Billington's decision, webcasters were only required to have a license for the ''musical work,'' the lyrics and written notes of a song. Most stations pay a fee to an organization that represents a group of songwriters, but does not compensate performers.

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\n The new royalty rates are required for permission to play the ''sound recording,'' the creative interpretation of the music by the artist, producers and sound engineers. Webcasters will now pay the sound recording fees, which go to the recording company that released the song, in addition to the musical work royalties.

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\n Terrestrial, or standard, radio broadcasters are not required to pay for the sound recording, which is an anomaly in the opinion of the recording industry. Record companies and the Recording Industry Association of America have sought compensation for performers for decades, and they saw the advent of Web radio as an opportunity to change the payment requirements.

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\n The webcasting rates are a ''small step toward more fairness for everyone and someday the goal is to have over the air radio compensate the performers of music as well,'' said Jonathan Lamy, a spokesman for the Recording Industry Association of America.

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\n ''No one seems to object to the fact that the people who create the music deserve to be compensated, but there may be arguments about how much that compensation should be,'' Lamy said.

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\n While a flat fee or a revenue-based fee would have been more feasible for webcasters, the recording industry argues it would not have provided ample compensation to the copyright holders, as most Internet stations have little or no revenue.

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\n In addition to the royalty rates, there are record-keeping requirements that the librarian of Congress has yet to release.

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\n ''A great deal of our concern is not just the rate issue but also the record-keeping issue,'' said Joel Willer, director of KXUL at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. ''I still have some very great concerns that even if we are able to tolerate the rates that we certainly could be forced off if the other burdens are overwhelming.''

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\n The original requirements proposed by the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel for every song played online include reporting the song title, artist's name, album title, record label, catalogue number, the International Standard Recording Code and date and time of transmission. In order to adhere to the standards, stations claim they would have to install thousands of dollars worth of hardware and software and spend hours updating their records.

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\n ''Broadcasting would be about bookkeeping, not about learning, not about education, not about having fun anymore,'' said Mary Francis Milligan, a disc jockey at the Savannah College of Art and Design's Web-only station, Scadradio.org. ''I know that if it really went through, then a lot of people would probably leave our station because it wouldn't be fun anymore.''

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\n Members of the recording industry argue that the requirements are an integral part of the copyright system. ''If were going to compensate these people correctly, it is important to know the exact information about how and when a piece of music is played, and that means accurate and complete bookkeeping,'' Lamy said.

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\n Content restrictions also have webcasters discouraged about the future of Web radio. If stations want to maintain their copyright license, they cannot announce upcoming songs or archive shows that are less than five hours long. Also prohibited is playing more than two consecutive songs from a single album or three consecutive songs from an artist's boxed set. A broadcaster can play no more than three songs from one album per hour, and no more than four songs from any single artist in any three-hour period.

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\n The restrictions are designed to limit piracy and illegal recording, but many feel that it is unfair to restrict Web radio and not standard radio transmission.

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\n ''I believe in paying royalty fees, I believe in record keeping, I am completely for that. I believe that songwriters should be compensated for their songs. However, I don't see how Web radio is that different from terrestrial,'' Milligan said. The scarcity of available FM and AM bands in Savannah left Scadradio with webcasting as the only option. Unlike stations simulcasting their terrestrial programs, if Scadradio shuts down its online transmission, the entire station would be silenced. Robedee estimates there are between 100 and 200 other Web-only stations that could cease operation because of the new regulations.

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\n Even though the standards for terrestrial and Web broadcasts are unequal, the recording industry is striving to obtain a balanced compensation program. ''We have always argued that radio stations should pay as well,'' Lamy said.

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\n Since the release of the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel's requirements, the U.S. Copyright Office has been designing a more agreeable record-keeping system. A roundtable of representatives from the major webcasting groups, including college stations, met in May to discuss reasonable expectations. The librarian of Congress should release the new requirements by the end of the summer.

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\nStreamlined beyond recognition?

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\n Those stations that continue to webcast despite the new regulations still face the burden of rising costs as their audiences grow.

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\n ''There is a roadblock toward future expansion on the Internet. [The fees] really keep them from growing a large listening audience on the Web,'' said Michael Papish, the former chief engineer of Harvard University's WHRB.

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\n According to the Recording Industry Association of America, the rates are an effort to reach a ''fair compromise.'' If stations are expanding to the point where the fees are too great, ''then that suggests that there is a responsibility to pay a fair-market rate for the music that is the foundation of that radio station,'' Lamy said.

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\n The prognosis for Web radio seems bleak in light of the mounting fees and restrictions. Stations with the funds to stay afloat will undoubtedly face a very changed Web radio after the regulations go into effect.

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\n ''It would change the purpose of the station. The purpose of the station is to train students to maybe one day go out and get an actual broadcast job in the real world; it's about learning the system, and learning how to broadcast,'' Milligan said.

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\n The diversity that Web radio adds to listeners' music options is another one of its unique features in jeopardy, say its advocates.

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\n ''Our station is providing valuable promotion for lesser-known artists, as well as increasing UCLA's awareness about social issues,'' Benavente said. ''As it stands, we primarily play artists from independent labels, live electronic music performances, and lesser-known artists from major labels.'' UCLARadio halted broadcast until the administration verifies that it will pay the new fees.

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\n To those involved, the value of Web radio is too great to sacrifice. Those who have been active in saving the webstreams are optimistic that things could turn in favor of webcasters, enabling the more established Web stations to continue operation.

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\n ''I'm hopeful that we can get some remedy to this,'' Robedee said. ''Our options are copyright holders being open to a rate that will be reasonable and will protect everyone's interests, and there's a possibility of litigation and there's a possibility of legislative action.''

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\n Robedee's Save Our Streams Web site (www.ruf.rice.edu/\n~willr/cb/sos/) has been a point of convergence for college webcasters. Along with general support for Web stations, the site includes information about a large mobilization effort to influence Congress.

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\n Legislators are starting to listen to complaints from college students, and submitted the Internet Radio Fairness Act to the U.S. House of Representatives in July. The bill proposes a different set of rates for small businesses.

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\n Two appeals have been filed on behalf of webcasters since the librarian's rate announcement. The National Association of Broadcasters and other large broadcast groups filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. The suit argues that terrestrial simulcasters should not have to pay sound recording fees for Web retransmission, since they do not pay them for on-air broadcast. Harvard Radio Broadcasting and Internet Broadcasting Systems also filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking a review of the librarian's order.

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\n With the hope of legislation and legal action, college Web radio still has a chance to survive in some form. Its original format may be lost forever on many campuses, though, much to the dismay of webcasters.


Save Our Streams Web site


Fall 2002, reports