Quick Roundup 177

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Big Trouble for Internet Radio

Last month, Dismuke drew my attention to the fact that a government panel had recently approved a new royalty structure that would cripple Internet radio if upheld. The new rates were appealed and a ruling on the matter was expected within weeks. Unfortunately, the panel announced its ruling yesterday, and things look very grim for Internet radio.

A panel of judges at the Copyright Royalty Board has denied a request from the NPR and a number of other webcasters to reconsider a March ruling that would force Internet radio services to pay crippling royalties. The panel's ruling reaffirmed the original CRB decision in every respect, with the exception of how the royalties will be calculated. Instead of charging a royalty for each time a song is heard by a listener online, Internet broadcasters will be able pay royalties based on average listening hours through the end of 2008.

The ruling is a huge blow to online broadcasters, and the new royalty structure could knock a large number of them off the 'Net entirely. Under the previous setup, radio stations would have to pay an annual fee plus 12 percent of their profits to the music industry's royalty collection organization, SoundExchange. It was a good setup for the webcasters, most of whom are either nonprofits or very small organizations. [link dropped]
The story links to another article which reports that National Public Radio, which will be affected, is going to seek a rehearing. (HT: Sid)

"Doc" MacDonald on the Pueblo Incident

Upon reading Ayn Rand's remarks on forced confessions, which I posted recently, Rick "Doc" MacDonald, a navy retiree who blogs at SSN 687 and Friends (which has been added to the blogroll), posed the following questions:
Basically, I agree with 99% of Ms Rand's viewpoints; however, I am reminded by conscience that every ship (and especially every ship that deals with information gathering or espionage) has a self destruct bill. That bill isn't printed to fill space. It is printed and expected to be executed at the appropriate time. Captain Bucher was a brave man. I have no doubt about that. His crew were all brave men and represented this country with honor. They are all heroes to some degree.

I understand that executing a self-destruct bill under the circumstances they were in would most likely have cost them even greater casualties, and that being in a position where making that call is difficult, heart wrenching, and irreversible. But making that call is the duty of leadership. It is based on tradition and its execution is relied upon in strategic planning.


As difficult as it is to order execution of the destruction bill while fighting against overwhelming odds, so, too, is the decision of one marine to fall on a grenade to save others. So, too, is the decision to jump up on a burning HUMVEE, while severely wounded to operate a machine gun out in the open against overwhelming force in order to provide your exposed team members the chance to get to cover.

These are the cases in which Medals of Honor are earned, and to suggest that Captain Bucher, who I agree is a hero to some degree, deserved that award when you can easily compare his actions to those of Captain William L. McGonagle of USS Liberty just 7 months earlier, is to cheapen the value of the Medal of Honor and to lessen the significance of the actions taken by those who earned it. [bold added, two minor edits]
To summarize the questions he raises: (1) Shouldn't Captain Bucher have attempted to execute the ship's self-destruct bill sooner, even at the expense of more casualties? (2) Does he really deserve the Congressional Medal of Honor? These are both fair questions. Although I am not ready to answer either definitively, I will offer my thoughts on each of them here.

On the matter of the self-destruct bill, the crucial question is whether Bucher could reasonably have been expected to carry it out much more fully at any point. While I certainly cannot speak for Ayn Rand, I will note here that she did specifically mention that her proposed policy on forced confessions "would not apply to divulging actual military secrets", so I think it is safe to say that her opinion was that this would have been impossible for him to do. (I think he started carrying out that bill shortly before the Pueblo was captured.)

Now this incident occurred when I was less than eighteen months old, and I am no great student of military history, so I'm guessing here ... but my impression is that she thought Bucher's failure to fully execute the self-destruct bill was unavoidable and that this failure was the basis for the recommendation to court-martial him, or at least from some quarters to scapegoat him. I could be wrong and would love to hear from anyone out there more familiar with this incident than I am, especially if they are also familiar with Ayn Rand.

On the second question, the standards for awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor, and whether Bucher deserved one, are open to debate, but they are irrelevant to the issue at hand, which is: How should our country treat forced confessions (of an ideological nature) by its captured soldiers?

A careful reading of the Ayn Rand letter shows that she never favored surrendering sensitive information. Thus, despite what a more detailed knowledge of the Pueblo incident might bring to light about Bucher's role contrary to Ayn Rand's assessment, the point Miss Rand makes is not injured in any way.

Myrhaf's on Fire

Myrhaf has been writing some really good stuff lately. I particularly recommend the following posts, if you haven't read them already.
Each of these is long, but worth the time.

Ninja Game Show

You have got to watch this video, from a Japanese game show, of a fisherman's spectacular athletic performance in a "Ninja" competition.

Reader Michael Gold tipped me off to this, crediting the blog Never Yet Melted for the tip.

The same blog also has a post about the use of anamorphic illusions (specifically the tromp d'oeil technique) in advertising. The posts on Japanese skirts may not be work-safe. You have been warned.

More about 'Happyness

Monica, blogging at Spark a Synapse (which I've added to the blogroll), makes some interesting comments about some criticism of The Pursuit of Happyness that she recently encountered. Among them:
One viewer on Rotten Tomatoes was really interesting... he said he really, really liked the film but doesn't understand why he liked it, because the types of goals the main character pursues are the opposite of what he has been taught as morally correct: that the film views personal accomplishment as moral, but what is actually moral is self-sacrifice. He was struggling with this emotional conflict about the nature of morality. I couldn't help but wish that I could reach through the computer screen and hand that person a copy of Ayn Rand's Virtue of Selfishness.
But that's just the last paragraph.

Forget Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

Did he live to tell the tale? You'll see why I ask that question after you watch this video of a typical street-crossing in India over at Ergo Sum's blog, Leitmotif, which I have recently blogrolled.

-- CAV


Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

Once again, I have had a good time reading your blog and thank you for your efforts. Thanks you, as well, for your comments on my response to the "forced confessions from Ayn Rand's perspective". It's a difficult topic and one that is guided primarily by an individual serviceman's/servicewoman's understanding of the "Code of Conduct" coupled with the quality of leadership present at the point of interrogation. Results will vary, but I believe most people will resist by evasion or distortion or some other means sufficient enough to signal that whatever was said did not come easy. I don't believe (and sincerely hope) that an American fighting man/woman will give captor's what they seek as easily as did the recent British hostages. I am a 20 year veteran who volunteered in 1969 when many others were doing all they could to evade service; so, there's a chance that I may be somewhat biased. With great sincerity, thank you for your thought provoking postings. --Rick

Gus Van Horn said...

Good to see you here, Rick.

Although I advocate the payment of meaningless lip-service to tyrants while imprisoned, I do not claim that doing so would be easy. But in another series of comments on the subject, I realized another thing that is worth considering.

Suppose that Iran lied to the British sailors to the effect that they were going to be released before filming them when Seaman Turney confronted Ahmadinejad with his own depravity. Suppose further that they decided that the scene made for bad television. Conceivably even her act of defiance might have gotten her or the other sailors killed. And for what? People like the rulers of Iran are not impressed by anything anyway. That's why we have to kill them.

Allowing some jackass the temporary thrill of pretending to himself that he has degraded me is a price I am willing to pay for the safety of my fellow men and for my own. They and I will, hopefully, live to fight another day.

Darren said...

Hi Gus. I saw the news about the internet royalty ruling today, too, and since I've been thinking and reading about this issue since your last post on it I thought I'd post another comment.

The problem with the rates that the government set is not that the rates are too high or low, but the fact that the government has any say in the rates at all. Those who hold the rights of the music should set the rates, and nobody else. It's their music, so you need their permission. But so long as the government is playing a role in this issue, the government should side with the content owners. Like I said in my previous comment, the government should not be trying to balance the rights of the content owners with the wants of the broadcasters. Since SoundExchange seems to be very happy with the ruling, I'm more apt to believe that the correct ruling was made.

I disagree with how this issue is framed as a question whether "internet radio" will be allowed to continue. Internet radio will continue. This ruling doesn't take away any broadcaster's right to play music to which he or she has permission. What this ruling affects is what it will cost for some broadcasters to get permission to play some music, and it's setting the cost to a rate that the content owners want. That's all. Nobody's individual rights are being violated (except the property owners for having negotiate with anyone about their own rates).

Imagine what would happen if the government gave the internet broadcasters the low rates they wanted. The government would essentially be telling the RIAA, "We don't care what you want to do with your property, because internet radio must be preserved." What is "internet radio?" Playing music over the internet? Whose music? Playing it to whom? These aren't questions you'll find answered on sites like saveinternetradio.org. There, you'll just find easy ways to get in touch with your legislators and pressure them to take from the RIAA what you want.

I'd like to finish by pointing out that despite this ruling, it's never been easier to listen to the music you want legally. Many websites allow online streaming and will continue to do so. Some even allow you to play a low monthly fee to have unlimited access to millions of songs, and even download them all to your mp3 player. For $12 a month, you can have a music library that beats the biggest internet music pirate. I think online music is going to be ok.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you for taking the time to leave this comment. You make a very good case for why this ruling should be as it is given that the government is improperly in the business of setting rates.

However, one thing still really bugs me about this, and it is the fact that, if I recall correctly, lots of people are going to face financial ruin due to the sudden (and retroactive) change in rates. If the government is involved, it ought at least to behave as non-capriciously as possible. I think these small broadcasters should have been given a way to avoid financial ruin just because they operated their stations on the not-unreasonable premise that their rates weren't going to get increased enormously, retroactively, and with essentially no notice.

Sid said...

Darren, another way to look at it is to see that the RIAA, to kill off Internet radio and to maintain its hegemony, has lobbied a government board to artificially increase the rates.

Copyright holders aren't happy. So, at least some content owners don't want this. (The RIAA doesn't represent all content owners, of course.)

The earlier model, one of percentage of revenue, was quite reasonable, although not ideal. The new model, a "per song, per listener" one proposed by the RIAA, is damaging.

The alternative method -- negotiate with content owners -- is, quite frankly, impractical.

Dismuke's excellent essay An Unfree Market has the details. Please do read it if you already haven't.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thank you for arguing the other side of this issue.

At this point, I think it worth throwing in something many easily lose sight of: Whatever one's position on this issue, one simply must at least mention that the government has no legitimate role in setting prices at some point in any attempt at activism.

And note the political corollary to Ayn Rand's discussion of how anti-morality dictatorships (and other forms of unwarranted government coercion) are: When morality goes out the window, so, we see, does rational politics.


Darren said...

I don't have a problem with the RIAA lobbying this government board because they are lobbying for their own property.

The little secret that the anti-RIAA side won't tell is that webcasters depend on government intervention to keep royalty rates low enough to allow them to broadcast their stations. If this issue was left to the free market where the content owners were allowed to set their own rates, the RIAA would probably set high rates similar to what we saw the government board set. That's why webcasters are urging their listeners to contact legislators to try to make the government set a low rate rather than try to get the government out of the business all-together.

I know that some artists have come out against the rate increase, and they're paraded as examples of how webcasters are siding with interests of content owners. However, so long as those artists have signed with labels that are members of organizations such as the RIAA, they've voluntarily give up their say in what happens with their music. It's part of what goes with the paychecks they receive. They traded their music for money from someone that wants to sell their works. Once the property rights over that music have been transferred to another party, that second party has the same rights over that music that the content creator had. So, I really disagree with this idea that the RIAA is somehow taking artists' music or getting in the way.

I don't want to take Gus' comment list, but there is one more thing I'd like to address while I'm writing about this: Webcasters bemoan the fact that the internet rates are so much higher than AM/FM radio rates, and claim that they are unfair. I have two responses to that statement. First, and most importantly, content owners decide what is "fair" when it comes to their property. It would be more fair if the RIAA charged $100 per song per listener than if the government set the rate to a level webcasters could afford. Second, broadcasting music over the internet brings has problems that don't exist when broadcasts over the airwaves. The first problem that comes to my mind is the fact that internet broadcasts can be ripped easily, turning some stations into a real-time music file-sharing system. I believe that the majority of webcasters are honest and that the bitrates the music is streamed on probably stops most people from trying to steal music in this manner. However, there is an increased risk for the RIAA here, and I can understand why they would want to try to better secure their property. It's the same reason much of the music purchased online has DRM built-in. I think it's perfectly fine to debate whether the RIAA is following a good business model when it comes to online distribution (personally, I won't buy any more of their DRM'd music, it's too much of a hassle), but what should not be up for debate is the RIAA's right to their property.

Sid said:
"The alternative method -- negotiate with content owners -- is, quite frankly, impractical."

It's statements like this that make it easier to understand what the RIAA is up against. This is not an issue of how much should be charged for internet broadcasting, it's for who actually controls the content to be broadcast. I believe that all personal property, whether material or intellectual, should be respected.

Sid said...

However, so long as those artists have signed with labels that are members of organizations such as the RIAA, they've voluntarily give up their say in what happens with their music.


But what of those who haven't signed with the RIAA? The so-called "indie" musicians. What of the 70-80 year old music that Dismuke plays?

If the RIAA had set the rates for its own music, it would not be a problem. IMO it would be a loss to the RIAA itself.

But the RIAA has effectively set rates for ALL music -- not just RIAA-owned -- and has got the government to do the dirty job. That is where the problem lies.

I see these actions as nothing more than what a real-life Orren Boyle would do.

Darren said...

The RIAA should not have any say with what is done with music that it does not control, which of course includes independent music or music with an expired copyright. But that's really not what this issue is about. The problem is that a government board exists that offers individuals an option to broadcast music without securing permission from the content owner.