How The DMCA Is Restricting Online Radio In Ridiculous Ways

from the can't-play-that-show dept

When webcasting first started to become popular, as with any new and useful offering, the RIAA was quick to try to kill it off with ridiculously high licensing fees. While there was some back and forth over the years, the current fees make it nearly impossible to legally stream music online profitably. But, the details are even worse than you think. Even if you are paying the super high fees (which are much higher than terrestrial radio), there are all kinds of restrictions as well. Michael Scott points us to an excellent article in the Tufts’ student paper highlighting how these restrictions are harming college radio without any benefit. As the article notes, they are:

“now prohibited from forwardly announcing song titles, broadcasting more than three songs from the same album or four songs from the same artist in a three-hour period, making archived webcasts of their shows available online for longer than two weeks and making those webcasts available for download.”

The article points out that nothing in these restrictions will stop people from illegally downloading music, but they will serve to create an annoyance for the DJs who put together the programs for this station, and for listeners. Making shows available to download as podcasts, seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do to build up a fanbase. But… not allowed. The whole thing about preventing three songs from an album or four songs from the same artist in a three-hour period is the RIAA’s ham-fisted way of trying to stop DJs from playing a whole album straight — but it also kills off programs dedicated to a single artist. The article mentions, for example, how the University of Michigan’s radio station can no longer air a radio show it used to have, dedicated to Duke Ellington. When I was in college, our student-run station had a show dedicated to the Beatles, which I imagine also could not be run today under these rules. Now, the article doesn’t mention that there apparently are some ways to get waivers for these restrictions, but they appear to only be in very limited cases, and the details are somewhat secretive.

Yet another case of the DMCA putting in place ridiculous restrictions that do nothing to actually stop unauthorized copying.

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Comments on “How The DMCA Is Restricting Online Radio In Ridiculous Ways”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I told my school radio to just broadcast from some other country, the DJ can remote in from the states but the songs and hardware are “broadcast” from Sweden where the laws are more favorable. We even went so far as to register a small non-profit who “owned” the station and allows us to do shows.

Since the station is outside the US (as a business is a person too right? right?) but the nature of web 2.0 is to move the physical server as close to the end point as you can make it, we have a data center in Canada that does all our physical broadcasts.

The only person who is in the US never signed a contract with the RIAA and is employed as a contractor, in effect we could have anyone in the world do the same job.

Why did we do all this? We’re a public university net radio station for crying out loud. Well its actually simple, it cost less and actually requires less overhead.

In this situation who do you sue anyway? Do you sue the school because it supply’s the DJs? Do you sue the non-profit in Europe because its braking US law? Do you sue someone in Canada for having the audacity to put a Europe company data center in Canada? Its a giant legal limbo solution.

In the near future I think this kind of legal shopping is going to become more common then people think. Being able to skirt the DCMA by incorporating in Europe while having a data center in a 3rd country and who knows what else in the home country.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Your solution is nice, until you actually get sued. Since the University is in the US, they can still be sued in a US court for this.

They may be able to use your workaround to avoid a ruling against them, but they risk the RIAA costing them millions in legal fees to defend themselves. Unless they managed a summary judgement based on jurisdiction, and also won the near certain appeal, your plan could still cost them a lot in legal fees.

It’s nice you found a school willing to risk it, but if they did a risk assessment, it may be better to bail entirely.

charliebrown (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I’ve been reading up on this a LOT in the last year as a friend of mine wishes to run an online radio station based in Australia for Australians and he is even obtaining the legla licenses to broadcast in Australia. The license also covers numerous other countries by default but not the US.

Whilst helping him to find out what he needs to know, it transpired that a web radio staion that is available in the US – REGARDLESS OF WHERE IT IS ORIGINATING FROM OR WHO IT IS MARKETED TO – must still abide by the RIAA rules or face being sued. Even if not intended for the US market, if somebody in the US is able to tune in to it, the station must be licensed in the US or geoblocked from the US.

Funny…. I thought each country had it’s own laws. An Australian citizen webcasting in Australia for an Australian audience but who cannot afford geoblocking software – heck, the license fee alone is breaking his bank but he’s still going for it! – but he must abide by US law because somebody in the US can listen?

hank says:

mix 106 effect

this ties into what my wife calls the “mix 106” effect, jam the same music over and over and over again down someone’s ears, and they can’t help but like it. This is why the labels love FM radio, and have captured it for their marketing strategy. Online radio is a huge threat to this model, and coming up with regulations to make sure it will never be profitable works out perfectly for large content producers.

Anonymous Coward says:

“now prohibited from forwardly announcing song titles, broadcasting more than three songs from the same album or four songs from the same artist in a three-hour period, making archived webcasts of their shows available online for longer than two weeks and making those webcasts available for download.”

Which won’t stop a determined “pirate” from using steamripper to “rip” the “stream” as it is playing (or any other software that I am not aware of, but that certainly exists). But it will certainly annoy DJs and listeners.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It doesn’t make any sense. Literally none. Don’t try to pick it apart. That’s just how it is.

I can attempt to explain it though.

Who has time to listen to every single broadcast and make sure that the rights are cleared for every single (free) song? Nobody. Not the little men, not the big men. So the collection societies just take a cut of everything. So the rights of members are protected over the rights of non-members.

Does that sound cruel and evil? It is, but it comes from the best of intentions: the collection societies and established industry are quite certain that they know the true reality of how musicians get by in this world: by the old crusty business models. If you don’t conform to those models, you’re not even doing what’s smart for yourself. So it is best to give in and do things the standard way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Once again Artists are betrayed by a government that we paid a Copyright Fee to. We are forced to deal with private for-profit companies to collect any fees due us. I paid the government for protection NOT RIAA, NOT MPAA, NOT ASCAP, the United States Copyright Office took my money and promised to protect my work. Instead all I received was a license to litigate. Collection rules that I totally disagree with. Do I have any say in the matter? NOT!

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the United States Copyright Office took my money and promised to protect my work. Instead all I received was a license to litigate.

If you’re the same person, I think I already asked you this and never got an answer (I won’t try a third time but I’ll give it another shot). Do you think copyright infringement should be a criminal matter, or do you think the federal government should take an active role in suing infringers on behalf of rightsholders?

Or are you thinking they should have some (magical?) way of preventing copyright infingement from happening in the first place? For that matter, why do you think they promised to “protect” your work? What part of the copyright statute makes you think they’re supposed to be doing something they’re not doing? Or is it just wishful thinking?

Anonymous Coward says:

I go back a ways with radio. I remember riding my bike to school listening to a transistor radio, right after they first came on market.

I went to FM when commercials got really bad. But in the old days, there was no telling what you would hear on the air. Some new local artist might go butter up the DJ and get his tune on the air. Heard many of them played that way. Variety was something you expected and got.

When I went to FM radio, you could hear specials where an artist was featured, often with that artist’s comments on the tune aired. Simulcasts were done where you got the audio from the FM stereo and the visual on TV.

You heard new stuff all the time. It kept music alive. There was interest in the new stuff and frequently drove the listeners into the record stores to get that newly exposed artists offerings.

The internet and webcasts almost got to be the new way to hear music. It would have had not the RIAA and the other entrenched establishments not gotten in the way of it.

Now there is not much of a way to hear new music. It’s the land of the replay. No wonder there is not such a driving market anymore for the music scene. How many times you gonna buy the same song?

Making it prohibitively costly plus orneriness to follow the law or the rules only encourages them to be broken more times than not. If you get around the net, there are tons, literally tons, of private, non-advertised, webcasts. Places where you can hear old tunes never played now or new tunes you haven’t heard before.

I’m not preaching for it, just saying it’s a direct result of this absurdity.

Anonymous Coward says:

The university is not actually attached to the student radio station in any way. The students have built it on there own as a pure student project, any lawsuit against the university would go no-place as long as the students keep it this way.

As of right now its officially the Swedish nonprofits radio station (supported by donations), student DJs are invited to broadcast on the station. I just gave a quick overview of how it works but there are some vary clear legal definitions used. I suspect a specific DJ could be sued but the DJ has no contract with the RIAA that imposes the crazy stipulations. And the contract with the station informs the DJ of Swedish laws for internet broadcasting.

Any lawsuit against the university would have to be for donating to a non-profit (There is lots of case law that protects public schools in this area).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Have you been sleeping for the past 15 Internets?

Legislation (and enforcement of the legislation) has FAILED quite miserably to stop or even slow down “unauthorized copying”. Don’t believe me? Connect to the internet and see for yourself (try keeping your eyes open and actually reading).

In fact, I could do it. Right now. No one could stop me and no one would ever find me or stop me (without spending the energy equivalent of 3 Suns, that is).

You can deny it as much as you want, it won’t change reality. Seems like you are the one who has too much “faith” in the broken system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Prove that it does something. Oh look, I can demand stupid things too. Fun, isn’t it?

I never made that claim. Mike said it’s a fact that the DMCA does “nothing to actually stop unauthorized copying.”

If it’s a fact, he can demonstrate it. He cannot.

Typical techdirt FUD.

Everything that backs up Mike’s position is “fact.” Everything that doesn’t is “faith-based.”

So ridiculous.

Is this place supposed to be so comedic?

Danny says:


…”now prohibited from forwardly announcing song titles…”

Does this mean that stations cannot announce the title of a song before it plays? Wouldn’t that make it more difficult for people to get the song title/artist name, therefore making it more difficult for people to oh I don’t know, go out and buy music?

I really hope I’m misunderstanding this.

The Anonymouse Cat-herder says:

Anonymous Coward

Ok mister TAM… I think that’s who you are anyway.

I go out and buy a CD, take it home, using a program I bought I rip it to my hard drive and then dump it to my iPod, technically that’s illegal as I didn’t get the permission of the artist or the label or the publisher to do so, I am supposed to purchase the same songs from iTunes and then dump those to my iPod… however the DMCA or the RIAA is not in anyway stopping me from doing so, as much as the RIAA would like to. It is covered as fair use but the labels hate that.

Also I can do the same to DVDs and Blu-rays, though doing that to Blu-ray discs is a little more complicated, that and I prefer to encode to something a little smaller then say a 30gb video file. the DMCA makes doing this illegal, BUT as I purchased the disc I can and will make backups so that I do not scratch the original discs. like my Reboot Season 3 discs, long since out of print and price per disc is in over a hundred dollars now, not something I want to chance so I rip them and set them on my shelf while watching them on my computer.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Anonymous Coward

I go out and buy a CD, take it home, using a program I bought I rip it to my hard drive and then dump it to my iPod, technically that’s illegal

Nope, that’s fair use. Nothing illegal about it. If you shared it with another person, then it would be illegal.

However, if you have to bypass copy protection to create that backup – even though the backup is perfectly legal – then you’re breaking the law. No, it doesn’t make sense.

CD’s don’t have DRM, so they’re safe. Some DVD’s are too. Blu-ray is not.

Karl (profile) says:


I think I can provide some details about this.

First of all, the laws are part of the DMCA Performance Compliment. Though they were certainly put in there to satisfy the RIAA, they are federal laws. You can’t “get around them” by only playing non-RIAA music.

The extra $500/year is due to the Digital Performance Right In Sound Recordings Act that was pushed through in 1995. Traditionally, only songwriters and publishers got royalties from radio performance. This act also granted royalties to the sound recording copyright holder (sometimes performing artists, but usually the label).

These royalties are collected by SoundExchange, on behalf of every artist on the planet, whether on a label or not, regardless of artists’ intentions, usually without the artist even knowing the royalties exist. In theory, a radio station could get around paying these fees – if they signed a deal with each individual artist that they played (unlikely). However, CC licenses that are not NonCommercial waive these fees; still, I’ve never heard of a single Internet radio station that has not paid them.

These laws were put in place by the RIAA claiming that any digital transmission was “piracy.” That’s why the ridiculous conditions: in theory, they make it harder for “pirates” to know when a song is on to record it, or to download the archived song and share it. Of course, there’s no evidence that many people ever did this – especially given the fact that radio streams are of significantly inferior quality compared to a CD rip. (Has anyone ever encountered a “radio rip” on The Pirate Bay?)

In other words: it was a pure money grab on the RIAA’s part, pushed through Congress by spreading FUD about “piracy.”

Of course, now that these royalties are in place for digital radio, the RIAA is pushing for them to be included in terrestrial radio as well. Despite the fact that terrestrial radio has never had to pay them. And, big surprise, they’re framing this issue in terms of “piracy” – that the radio stations are “stealing” from them by not paying them.

This all just goes to show that the RIAA and their clients believe that “anyone who doesn’t pay us is a pirate.” Does it help radio? No. Does it help artists? No. Does it benefit the fans? No. Does it actually deter piracy? No. Doesn’t matter; all the RIAA wants is to make it illegal not to pay them.

Anonymous Coward says:

CharlieBrown –

Just because the US says you need to pay the RIAA does not mean ausy law says you need to pay it. To take the radio station to court requires something called Jurisdiction. If your a wholly Australian company, you can only be sued In Australia and can completely ignore summons from the USA. A mocking email response to this effect would be a great thing as well. Also note that this is a civil suit so there is no Jail time attached to ignoring the summons (other then to inform the court that you are located in, run out of, and only market to people in Australia and the License is an undue burden based on the fact that someone in the US
“could” get the transmission.)

Its just like Liable tourism where a statement was said in Canada about a person in the US but the lawsuit was filed in the UK. The UK lawsuit is 100% unenforceable so is any lawsuit in the US other then a request to block the IP and some made up numbers about how much they owe you.

The US does not own 100% of the internet, It cant tell people all over the world (as much as it would like to, and trys to do) to play by its rules. Otherwise you could use the lowest common denominator rule throughout the world.

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