Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wasn't internet radio killed last year?

KG Writes in:
I thought internet radio was killed last year. What gives?

SomaFM and most other internet broadcasters have technically been operating "out of compliance" (that is, we're not paying the royalties we are supposed to be paying). At some point, we can't keep doing this... someone will sue us for copyright infringement. SoundExchange has informally agreed to not sue any broadcasters who continue negotiations with them, that's why stations are still on the air. Other large services like iMeem and Last.FM have made direct deals with the large record labels, in most cases resulting in the "Big 4" record labels owning a part of those companies. (And with that ownership comes influence over the music they feature.)

So making a deal with the big record labels is not acceptable for most broadcasters who strive to be independent in the music they broadcast.

We have continued to negotiate with SoundExchange (the agency that collects the royalties) over the last year, and are close to a settlement. Originally, one problem was that a SoundExchange settlement would only cover their members, and not apply to all music as the CRB ruling did, unless congress acted to codify any settlements. HR. 7084 which was recently signed into law, does exactly that: it tells the CRB that they have to codify any settlement internet broadcasters and SoundExchange agree to. This is the only way we can get the royalties reduced to a reasonable level.

Internet radio is running on borrowed time. But even without a deal, big, venture-capital funded services like Pandora will likely survive in a slightly altered form: they'll have to make deals with all the major labels which will cause them to lose some of their independence. But small stations like SomaFM will be put out of business: either by lawsuits from the RIAA if we continue to operate without paying the royalty fees or more likely by just not having enough money to continue our operations after paying all these royalties.

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