College webcasters say new royalty fees will end many Internet broadcasts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — College radio webcasters face financialburden and possible shutdown from the new royalty rates presentedby Librarian of Congress James Billington on Thursday.

The rates are less than those originally proposed by the CopyrightArbitration Royalty Panel, charging seven-hundredths of a centper song per listener for web-only and commercial radio simulcastsand two-hundredths of a cent for non-commercial simulcasts. Stationswill also have to pay all royalty fees that date back to October1998. Although the rates for web-only and commercial stationswere cut in half, the fees are still more than most student mediasay they will be able to afford.

"The Internet and webstreaming are still in their infancyand as an educator I am very concerned that at this early stagewe could see the whole opportunity lost before we are able tosee it fully developed," said Joel Willer, director of KXULat the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

The mood at many college stations is "very somber, someare still trying to figure out what this means for them, whileother stations that had thought about getting into webcasting… have essentially made the decision not to," said WillRobedee, general manager of KTRU at Rice University and creatorof Save Our Streams, a Web site that tracks legal issues related to the DigitalMillennium Copyright Act.

Billington’s decision is the latest in the battle between onlinebroadcasters and the recording industry since the enactment ofthe DMCA in 1998. The new fees will go to the musician and therecord label that released the song, in addition to the fees thatstations already pay for airtime. While a revenue-based fee wouldhave been more feasible for webcasters, it would not have providedample compensation to the copyright holders, as most Internetstations have little or no revenue.

Many college Web stations have small audiences and will beable to handle the fees at their current size, but there is alongterm problem if the stations’ audiences grow.

"There is a roadblock toward future expansion on the Internet.[The fees] really keep them from growing a large listening audienceon the Web," said Michael Papish, the former chief engineerof Harvard University’s WHRB.

In addition to the royalty rates, there are record-keepingrequirements that Billington has yet to release.

"A great deal of our concern is not just the rate issuebut also the record-keeping issue," Willer said. "Istill have some very great concerns that even if we are able totolerate the rates that we certainly could be forced off if theother burdens are overwhelming."

The original requirements proposed by CARP for every song playedinclude reporting the song title, artist’s name, album title,record label, catalogue number, the International Standard RecordingCode and date and time of transmission. In order to adhere tothe standards, stations would have to install thousands of dollarsworth of hardware and software and use many labor-hours updatingtheir records.

Although they are in a state of limbo, many stations are remainingon the air until all of the requirements and rates are released."It’s one way of keeping it in the minds of our listenersthat this is important and if we were gone we would be forgotten,"Willer said.

Those who have been active in saving the webstreams are optimisticthat the battle is not over yet and things could turn in favorof webcasters.

"I’m hopeful that we can get some remedy to this,"Robedee said. "Our options are copyright holders being opento a rate that will be reasonable and will protect everyone’sinterests, and there’s a possibility of litigation and there’sa possibility of legislative action."

The inherent value of collegiate webcasts is expected to producereasonable requirements and a hopeful future in the long run."It’s educational for students and it’s good for societyin general to have alternative media out there that people canlisten to; things they can’t hear on commercial stations,"Papish said.

Read our previous coverage.