Bad Broadcast News

Rating: NNNNNIt seems like one by one the things that made the Internet worth staring at a computer screen are.


Rating: NNNNN

It seems like one by one the things that made the Internet worth staring at a computer screen are slowly disappearing.My e-mail in-box gets more spam than actual letters these days. File sharing and music trading, while still possible, are often more trouble than they’re worth, and now Internet radio, at least in its present form, seems on the verge of being crushed by legislation as well.

Internet broadcasters and online radio fans are in an uproar over what they see as a deliberate attempt to destroy their industry, and it’s easy to understand what they’re all worked up about.

At the root of the issue is a ruling that forces online broadcasters to pay royalties for every song they play online. In February, the U.S. Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel suggested that webcasters pay royalty rates of 14 cents on each song they spin online. The U.S. Copyright Office reduced these rates to 7 cents per song, per listener, retroactive to 1998, around the time Internet radio really began to take off.

The figure might not seem like much, but when you consider how much music gets played on online streaming stations, and how little money these stations actually make, it’s devastating for the industry. Major American radio stations have already begun to drop the Web feeds of their broadcasts, but it’s amateur broadcasters spinning a stack of cool records from their basement on portals like www.live365.com who are truly screwed.

Whether anyone is actually listening to these streams isn’t the issue. As with free music files zipping around the Web, music rights holders are convinced that Net broadcasting is an untapped source of revenue and as with file sharing, they’re willing to demolish a unique idea rather than work with it.

E-mail aside, Internet radio is the thing I go online for most. In part, this has to do with the insipid state of commercial radio, where hammering the same dozen songs down your ears hour after hour is somehow considered “new.”

An even bigger draw is the opportunity to hear things from around the world that, even with my trusty short-wave radio, are hard to get hold of. One of the great things about the smaller world that the Internet has created is the opportunity to check out different opinions and scenes from the source.

Want to hear what’s really going on in the Congo? Check out www.clandestineradio.com. Curious about who’s the next Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan? Dial up Radio Pakistan at www.radio.gov.pk.

There are thousands of wildly unpredictable sites, from state-run services to tiny free-form campus stations, all of which are now there to be listened to. Mess with these and the online universe just doesn’t sound the same.

As mentioned, this legislation doesn’t affect international feeds. There is also a grassroots movement growing to combat this legislation. Sites like www.saveinternetradio.org are struggling to get the fees talk overturned, or at least reduced.

It’s worth checking out, if only to slow what seems inevitable. mattg@nowtoronto.com

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