Hear that? Nothing. No, it’s not silence making a political point, as with the Internet Radio Day of Silence staged last week by web radio to protest punishing new royalty rates by showing what they could cause. This is an even more disturbing silence: as the deadline for new US rates for Net radio approaches, online radio’s supporters seem to be desperate and exhausted.
Here’s the problem: net radio supporters, concerned that new rates (and the backdated royalty rates that would be owed along with them) could kill Internet radio, haven’t exactly gotten a lot of good news lately. They’ve failed to stop the new rules in the courts: the U.S. Court of Appeals denied a “motion to stay” that could further postpone the ticking clock. And, despite overwhelming public support that jammed fax machines and stunned Members of Congress, the U.S. Congress has failed to actually bring a bill to the floor. Members were happy to co-sponsor legislation and say nice things to supporters, but not actually try to pass the legislation itself.
Barring any further action, Net radio is going to have a massive bill sitting on its desk this coming Monday. It’ll cover not only the new rates, but months and months of back-dated rates. With public broadcasting in a dire situation already, and independent music struggling to come into its own via fledgling Web outlets, that seems like really bad news.
Interestingly, one major outlet — one we’re big fans of here at CDM — disagrees. Last.fm argues that this is much ado about nothing, not because they’re a UK-based company (international broadcasters are subject to US rules — sorry, guys), but because they’ve managed to negotiate independently with the labels to get rates that work for them. That’s great — for Last.fm. But I question just how relevant this is to anyone else. Aside from the fact that not every single broadcaster can — or should have to — negotiate independently with labels, there’s also the fact that Last.fm can do its own programming around what it’s able to license. That isn’t the case for, say, a college public radio station doing a webstream of its usual programming. Given the strong material evidence presented by other broadcasters, it would seem that, despite Last.fm’s smug, broad pronouncements (ironic coming from a company owned by CBS), their situation is unique.
That means one thing: it’s time to hit the phones, Americans. (Hello, Rest of the World — while our laws may indeed wind up punishing your radio, too, I’m afraid there’s little you can do, other than call your American buddies and tell them to call.)
Call your Senators (you’ve got two of them) and your Representative (one of those). You can find the information here:
And, as I’ve said before, there’s all the reason for independent artists to make this call. The new royalty rates in the Congressional bill aren’t perfect, but they would establish a framework for setting fair rates across media in the future. The idea is not to eliminate royalties; it’s to set it a rate that expanding media outlets can cover. More growth for listeners could ultimately mean more royalty rates. And by protecting independent online outlets, artists have an opportunity to ensure the growth of digital media as a means of promoting their work, which can funnel money into better revenue sources for us, from commissions to album sales to live music ticket sales.
For more on the indie artist perspective, see Independent Artists Fear the Demise of Internet Radio from The Baltimore Sun on (ironically) July 4.
Feel free to let us know how your Congresspeople respond here in comments. And let’s hope that this largely inactive Congress can at least bring this important debate to the floor, rather than remaining silent themselves. Wherever you stand, total inaction is the worst kind of silence of all.