Keeping college radio alive

Ceilidh Mar

The number of college radio stations has been dropping significantly throughout the US. This collapse in amateur stations is partly due to the recent push through Congress of regulating acts for radio broadcast, video, and audio, as well as information sharing. Since 1998, when Congress passed the Digital Copyright Millennium Act (DCMA), many regulating groups have been pushing for increased awareness of peer-to-peer network sharing as well as additional fees for copyright issues. One of these groups is the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which has been seeking the placement of “per song” royalty fees, on top of the fees already going to groups such as ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), and other performing rights organizations that deal with titles and royalty issues for artists and labels.

In an attempt to come to some sort of agreement between the RIAA and the Digital Media Association (DIMA), the United States Copyright Office formed a special panel to decide on fair rates for both groups.

The decision: although there were many hopes that the chosen royalty rate would be based on the revenue taken in by the station, the panel decided on a set rate for song per estimated listener.

On February 20, 2002 the panel decided to recommend $.0014/song/listener for Internet-only web casters, $.0007/song/listener for broadcast radio simulcasts, and $.0002/song/listener for non-commercial radio simulcasts, in addition to the traditional royalty fees.

Also, the decision would be retroactive, meaning that stations could soon be paying out these fees backdated to the passing of the DCMA in 1998.

Although these fees seem small when taken separately, they can add up quickly. According to one estimate, a mid-sized independent web casting station with an audience of approximately 1000 people would owe, after retroactive fees, about $525,600.

Lawrence University’s radio station, WLFM 91.1, broadcasts and webcasts to an audience of approximately 150,000 potential listeners from the Fox River Valley area.

Luckily, WLFM is affiliated with Wisconsin Public Radio, so it falls under their webcasting license and shouldn’t be affected by the change. But many privately run stations around the country are facing potential shutdown if the decision is held up.

When asked to comment on the situation, WLFM station manager Matt von Ohlen said, “I know of two stations that have had to recently stop. It’s killing the spread of non-commercial music and independent stations.”

To follow the progress of this battle and get more information from both sides of the debate, log onto http://saveinternetradio.org/history.asp or http://www.riaa.com.

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