Pump It Up for Web Radio

In the classic song "Radio Radio," Elvis Costello sang the words, "They say you better listen to the voice of reason. But they don't give you any choice because they think that it's treason." Of course that song is nearly thirty years old so I doubt that Elvis Costello and the Attractions were talking about Web radio. But much of the anger and contempt that Elvis was directing at commercial radio of the time holds true for the controversy raging today over Web radio. Here's the history of the problem: As the ability to stream quality audio over the Internet has improved over the years, a huge benefit arose in the form of Web radio. By providing the ability to listen to music over the Internet, it enabled many benefits, including the ability to listen to hometown stations after moving to another area, niche music programming that would never occur on standard radio, and, best of all, the ability for independent and unsigned musicians to easily promote their music to wide audiences. Now to you, me and pretty much everyone else in the world, this all sounds pretty good. But to the Recording Industry Association of America, anything that lets people listen to what they want to listen to rather than what the RIAA tells them they should listen to-especially anything that lets musicians promote themselves without first signing away their souls to RIAA member companies-is very bad and must be destroyed.

Web RadioIn the classic song "Radio Radio," Elvis Costello sang the words, "They say you better listen to the voice of reason. But they don't give you any choice because they think that it's treason."

Of course that song is nearly thirty years old so I doubt that Elvis Costello and the Attractions were talking about Web radio. But much of the anger and contempt that Elvis was directing at commercial radio of the time holds true for the controversy raging today over Web radio.

Here's the history of the problem: As the ability to stream quality audio over the Internet has improved over the years, a huge benefit arose in the form of Web radio. By providing the ability to listen to music over the Internet, it enabled many benefits, including the ability to listen to hometown stations after moving to another area, niche music programming that would never occur on standard radio, and, best of all, the ability for independent and unsigned musicians to easily promote their music to wide audiences.

Now to you, me and pretty much everyone else in the world, this all sounds pretty good. But to the Recording Industry Association of America, anything that lets people listen to what they want to listen to rather than what the RIAA tells them they should listen to—especially anything that lets musicians promote themselves without first signing away their souls to RIAA member companies—is very bad and must be destroyed.

So a course was laid out to destroy Web radio. Now in a sensible world, one would say that when it came time to make sure that Web radio stations reimbursed artists, that the logical course would be to charge commercial Web radio stations the same rates that traditional broadcast radio stations pay.

But when it comes to the RIAA and their minions, logic is almost never involved. Instead the plan was to charge Web radio stations exorbitant per channel fees that for most Web radio stations would result in fees that were many times what the stations made in profit, essentially forcing most Web radio stations to shut down.

And using their pals in government and the copyright office, the RIAA and its "non-profit" subsidiary SoundExchange had these exact rules put in place that will basically cripple the still nascent Web radio movement.

Of course once people found out about this there was a pretty big outcry, which resulted in lots of lobbying and a bill submitted to Congress (called the Internet Radio Equality Act) that would put the rules into a more equitable percentage of revenue model for collecting fees from Web radio.

While the bill's chances in Congress aren't looking that strong right now, it has had one good effect. Faced with this bill ruining their plans, SoundExchange and the RIAA have begun negotiations with some groups of Web radio stations to come up with more equitable terms for Web radio fees.

This is good but in my opinion it isn't enough. For one, not all Web radio outfits are covered by the groups in these negotiations. Plus, without the force of law, there's no guarantee that these agreements won't change (especially after the threat of Congressional action goes away).

So that's why I think now, as the Congress returns from its vacation, is the right time to put the pressure back on to get the Internet Radio Equality Act passed, either by contacting your representatives directly or through the SaveNetRadio Coalition at www.savenetradio.org.

Now you may be thinking, what does this Web radio stuff have to do with my business? I think that many of us have become so used to the Web and its innovations that we forget how young and fragile it still is. There are still many entrenched and well connected interests out there that see the innovations of today as threats to their established business models. Today it's Web radio, tomorrow it could be your technology that's facing the results of special interest legislation.

Because if radio really is a sound salvation, let's keep as many options and outlets open as possible. Otherwise, to quote Elvis Costello once again, "Radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetize the way that you feel."