Monday, June 25, 2007

Webcasters to go silent Tuesday

If you tune in to any of your favorite webstreams on Tuesday June 26 and discover nothing but silence, don't panic. That's the way it's supposed to be.

Thousands of webstreams will go silent for the day as commercial and non-commercial webcasters, radio broadcasters, streaming services and even hobbyists turn off the streams to draw attention to an impending royalty rate increase foisted on them by SoundExchange, a front organization doing the bidding for the recording industry, which is attempting to strong-arm webcasters into new and ridiculously impractical royalty rates, the results of which could severely cripple webcasting as we know it.

Participants in this day of silence include some pretty big names. Yahoo, Rhapsody, MTV, Live365, Digitally Imported, Pandora and AccuRadio are just some of the multi-stream providers included. Independent streamers such as Radio Paradise, and Head-On Radio Network are going quiet as well. Many non-commercial radio entities are also turning off the streams for the day. And radio groups Saga Communications and Greater Media are also going quiet in support of the effort. As of yet, big guns like Clear Channel and CBS Radio have not announced their participation.

Many webcasters are planning to shut off access to their streams entirely, while other webcasters plan to replace their music streams with long periods of silence or whatever interspersed with occasional brief public service announcements on the subject. KCRW in Santa Monica, CA, for example, is replacing music programming with coverage of the Day of Silence. Internet-only webcasters and broadcasters that simulcast online will alert their listeners that “silence” is what Internet radio may be reduced to after July 15th, the day on which 17 months’ worth of retroactive royalty payments — at new, exceedingly high rates — are due to the SoundExchange collection organization, following a recent Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) decision.

In March, the Copyright Royalty Board announced that it would raise royalties for Internet broadcasters, moving them from a per-song rate to a per-listener rate. The increase would be made retroactive to the beginning of 2006 and would double over the next five years. Internet radio sites would be charged per performance of a song. A "performance" is defined as the streaming of one song to one listener; thus a station that has an average audience of 500 listeners racks up 500 "performances" for each song it plays." Since the announcement by the CRB, a large outcry has been heard by webcasters, broadcasters and listeners alike. And there is a growing movement of support in Congress to put the brakes on the CRB's decision.

As for Tuesday June 26, there will be silence. And if the recording industry and the CRB have their way, it could be permanent.


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