Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Rebuffering: Kissing American Dreams Good-bye

Detektor.fm-Studio (See our most recent updates on this story here.)

This month the Copyright Royalty Board, a panel of three appointed judges who decide the liability rates American radio stations must pay to broadcast music, handed down a pricing schedule that effectively eliminates Internet radio in the United States.

As the CRB's Wikipedia entry reports, this panel defines itself solely as an advocate of big business; though a governmental body, it refuses to consider artists' needs, economic or cultural development, or national interest in its decisions. Instead it adjudicates on the basis of something it calls "market value". In this worldview, the rate the CRB judges fair for the largest commercial media corporation in the nation is the benchmark for all radio, regardless of revenue, service area, or listenership. Only registered non-profit organisations receive due consideration.

The CRB's existing license structure was already below international standards; at bare minimum, American radio producers needed more pricing levels with shorter rate jumps between them to effect technical and commercial growth in their industry.

But after New Year's Eve 2015 (a bit more than a week from this writing), all accommodation of aspiring start-ups and hobby stations – in other words, of Net radio itself – vanishes completely.

Let's be perfectly clear: if this decision goes into effect as written, all individual American initiative in this rapidly developing medium is banned.

The keyword here is "American". As delighted as I'm sure the record companies are to have "killed the Internet", we've seen this before. That time, the empowering new technology was a seminal, hobby-generated music sharing platform called Napster. This brand-new paradigm, invented by a college kid in his dorm room, so undercut Big Music's marginally-earned profits that they ordered it gone. In response, American judges could have monetised the new technology, as they did when the same interests called for a similar assault on radio in the 1920s. But the role of the judicial in the US has changed; now it jumps on command.

And that's why no American today can download free music. Right?

Yeah. No. Americans can still get any almost song they want, scot-free, from any of a hundred sites, on any computer connected to the Web.

How is this possible? Well, look at that word "Web" again. It's short for something: World Wide Web. Other nations, other laws, other standards of enforcement. Napster-like free music servers flourish in virtually every nation of Eastern Europe and the Third World. Russia alone counts at least a dozen. And Americans can (and do) patronise them all.

My point is that the CRB hasn't killed Net radio. It has only killed American Net radio.

This new rate system, replacing not-enough with not-any, will have precisely one effect: to exclude the United States – its artists, entrepreneurs, technologists, and public – from advances and business opportunities developing in the rest of the world. We've already seen America go from leader to straggler in Net radio, thanks to abusive copyright legislation; as of 1 January, it forfeits its cut entirely.

As an enthusiastic consumer of worldwide Net radio, I'd like to plant my flag firmly on the side of American producers, now staring down the barrel at oblivion. I want to hear American music, American voices, American perspectives, and American communities. I want to have American stations in my scan list, right alongside those in Canada, Mexico, France, Australia, Russia, the UK, and fifteen other nations.

But sadly, if the CRB's ruling is allowed to stand, even American listeners will very soon have nothing to listen to but foreign Net radio. May I suggest that American readers express their considered dismay to their elected officials.


(Photo of the control centre at Germany's Detektor.fm -- a Net radio station -- courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and a generous photographer.)


  1. The suits have been trying to kill internet radio from day 1, and now, with some help from Citizen's United, they're about to get their wish. I expect 365, Shoutcast, and Tuna to lose a good half or more of their clients, likely forcing them to shut down. And with most people's listening choices once again limited to the narrow playlists imposed by the suits, unsigned and small label artists won't get heard, unless they're lucky enough to get on "American Idol", "The Voice", or Disney, and then their success will be based more on their looks than their actual talent.

    Long story short, the music industry is about to experience what happened to the auto, banking, and mortgage industries. And with this corrupt beyond the point of no return and broken beyond repair Kardashian Congress, the industry heads will get to enjoy all the benefits of a bailout, at our expense of course.

  2. Fight. Engage the artists make list of everyone you know who might share petitions to be signed and get ready to do some serious social media battle.
    There are politicians on both sides of the aisle who are on our side. We just need to get mobilized.
    This POTUS election cycle will (IMHO) be the last for citizens united.
    Whoever loses the election wil have it alsmost solely to blame and then half the country is de facto on 'our side'.
    Tis the season for the Temporary Restraining Order as many people and gov't offices are in slowdown.
    If we time this right, we can get people on their downtime and get them to think while they are on acation.
    This isn't good for anybody except a few artists and record companies.
    All we need is some proof that a small broadcaster broke a band or did something nobody else did.
    Don't give up.
    My station is my KID and it ain't goin' out the window with the bathwater.

  3. Agreed. This has been going on for far too long, this piracy in the name of "the artist". (Interesting that the corporate powers call music downloaders "pirates". In reasonable terms, the worst you can say about someone who downloads a music file from a free site is that he or she "isn't helping" the artist. Real piracy -- reaching out and snatching vast sums of unearned wealth, suppressing entire careers -- is the province of the record industry.)

    At some point, Americans are going to have to distinguish between the interests of the people and those of mega-corporations. It's astonishing that they've accepted the line that both are the same for as long as they have. And the state of Net radio in the US is one clear example of the real damage that's done when you put the fox in charge of the henhouse.

  4. BLAH.>BLAH>>BLAH!!.>Thanks for the info.>WHAT THE HELL DO I DO WITH IT?!
    Gimme some email addresses to flood, where are the online petitions to sign?! WHAT GOVERNMENT OFFICE CAN I CALL?!

    C'mon...you're a damn'd Reporter what's the CALL TO ACTION YOU NEED ME TO MAKE!?
    You post it, I will share it! I can't just say.."everybody Panic'..and not give them a direction to go in?!

    Tell me..I will gladly give you what you want! - Fighting for MY STATION _ TrueFM Online.com...your Gay Anthem Station..and yeah..i'm gay..I've known about fighting for my rights for over 46 years since stonewall..ENOUGH Give me my damn station!

  5. Fair enough, Clayton. I'd start with your Congressional delegation. (Congressperson and both Senators.)

    If you haven't joined the Internet Radio Broadcasting Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/internetradiobroadcasting/), that's another good step; lots of ground-level intelligence there.

    And especially, if you're running a Net radio station, get some PSAs about this into heavy rotation and urge your listeners to contact their Congressional representation. (If you were listening when the Net radio community mobilised against the DMCA in 2006-2007, you heard a lot of that. I'd just started listening to Net radio at the time and remember the calls.)

    As I learn of other bells to ring, I'll share that information here. In fact, I'm headed over to the IRB page right now to school up on it, and then I'll make another post here on NRB about "what to do".

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