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.

Filed Under: copyright, dmca, radio

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  1. icon
    Karl (profile), 2 Nov 2010 @ 1:27pm


    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.

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