Sunday, March 11, 2007
Following up on an earlier post about the danger posed to Internet radio by a semifascist partnership of businesses and government regulators, I am announcing the existence of a new blog on the subject.
At Radio Dismuke: Save Internet Radio, Internet broadcast hobbyist Dismuke plans to keep his listeners and other interested parties up to date on developments and advise them of opportunities for activism. This blog will be available from the sidebar at least for the duration of this crisis.
Crisis? My use of this word might sound borderline ridiculous until you go over there and do a little reading. For example, in one post, we learn that, thanks to the current moral bankruptcy of some in the recording industry and some in government, certain Internet broadcasters face retroactive financial bankruptcy.
This is no abstract, potential threat that may emerge down the road. It is ugly and it is imminent.
Imagine, for a moment, that you had an ongoing business relationship with an organization in 2006 and have already paid the $2,000 in charges that the organization had billed you for during that year. Now, imagine it is early March, 2007 and a governmental board announces that the rate should have, instead, been somewhere between $10,000 and $40,000 and that you have to pay the balance now retroactively. And, not only that, since January 1 you have been building up a bill with this organization at a rate which, by the end of the year, could result in you owing it up to $100,000.This is appalling to say the least, and it should be to anyone who uses the Internet to do anything, even if he is completely deaf. Why? Because what we are seeing here is a particularly vicious example of how government regulations that have no obvious connection to freedom of speech are being used to curtail it.
What I have described above is exactly what the Copyright Royalty Board [link added] did on March 2 to Live 365's most successful independent broadcasters who had signed up for the Live 365 X5000 package. These broadcasters are private individuals such as myself who are passionate about the music that they play and broadcast as a hobby, often investing considerable time and expense and usually getting no other reward than the the pleasure they get from doing it and the emails they receive from happy and grateful listeners.
Many of these broadcasters are now facing the prospect of financial ruin and perhaps even bankruptcy. [Happily, Dismuke himself is not among them. --ed]
According to Mark Lam, the CEO of Live 365:"The average X5000 station under these "per performance" rates will find their 2006 royalty obligation around $10,000, with some stations surpassing $40k. At current TLH, without any change in the new rates or streaming, some could find their 2007 SoundExchange bill approaching $100,000."Again, keep in mind that the individuals he is talking about are not deep pocketed corporations who have lawyers who can fight this out in court. They are ordinary private citizens such as myself who run an Internet radio station as a hobby and are already probably spending more that they probably would like to on maintaining their stations.
Oh, and by the way, my understanding is that the royalty bill on these new rates is due very soon, with no regard for the appeals process which will hopefully overturn all of this.
The Copyright Board, SoundExchange and the RIAA, which is behind the actions of both, are not content to just force these stations to go off the air - they want blood and are perfectly willing to knowingly drive decent individuals into personal bankruptcy.
Please do not allow the Copyright Board, SoundExchange and the lawyers and lobbiests at the RIAA to get away with it. Do not allow them to bring innocent men and women whose only crime was to have a dream of sharing the music they enjoy with others in a legal and lawful manner to be financially ruined in the name of protecting a technologically obsolete and increasingly irrelevant recording industry from the emerging competition it dreads and knows it will have a difficult time standing up against.
Above all, do not allow them to take away your freedom of choice in the sort of music you are able to listen to.
This move is designed to ruin one group of people in such an ugly manner as to frighten away anyone else who wants to do the same thing. This is America, and yet ordinary citizens are facing financial ruin because government regulators can decide after the fact what rates they "should have" paid. How the hell can anyone function when the future whims of some petty functionary have to be be factored in to whatever business he conducts?
This is bad enough, but consider the further implications. Who knows what other bureaucratic apparatus is already in place out there, just waiting for someone else to commandeer it to snuff out something else on the Internet he doesn't like? After Internet radio, what next? And after a few Internet broadcasters are driven to financial ruin, who will be next? And for doing what other completely innocuous activity?
This issue is far bigger than whether, as too many people will put it too dismissively, listeners in a few niche markets suddenly lose their ability to listen to their music over the Internet. Government intrusion into legitimate business transactions may be taken for granted as "the way things work", but it is wrong, and can, besides, unleash all manner of unforeseen consequences later on.
PS: After examining the Live365 site, I must add a major reservation to this post. From the table at the top of the page, it appears that no rates had been set for 2006. Leaving aside whether the government should be involved at all in setting royalty rates, it seems foolhardy on everyone's part to have entered any kind of contract to broadcast anything without a preexisting, agreed-upon rate. If I am drawing the right conclusion from this table, then in this sense, the rate increases are not really ex post facto. (But then, if the government is "supposed to" set the rates, why hadn't it at least set a temporary one?) [Update: Dismuke elaborates further on this in the comments. Based on what he says, I have no problem with asking Congress to intervene on an ad hoc basis. Needless to say, Congress ultimately should not be setting rates.]
Also, for the record, I cannot fully support the aims of Live365, which are stopgap measures at best. Ultimately, the government must get out of broadcasting altogether, including auctioning off the airwaves, and act only to enforce mutually agreed-upon contracts between buyers and sellers of copyrighted works. I would be very interested in hearing more on the various subjects this episode is bringing up from others more knowledgeable than myself.
Today: (1) Added a link and a clarification. (2) Added a postscript.
3-12-07: Updated the postscript.