Sunday, July 22, 2007

Internet Radio Under the Sword

The deadline has come and gone, and Intenet radio is still available. So is the crises over? Can we all breathe easy? Look up. Hanging over netcasters is the sword of Damocles.

Audiographic does a good job going into the details of what happened last Monday, but I'll give you the short version. Congress didn't act, and the new ruinous rates went into effect. The SoundExchange magnanimously said they wouldn't collect the rates as long as netcasters continued to negotiate with them.

OK, so all's well that ends well, right?

Look up.

The SoundExchange reserves the right to demand payment at any time with interest. And they're now demanding that netcasters put digital rights management in place (DRM) to combat "streamripping."

Readers of a certain age may be familiar with the concept of stream ripping -- it's like holding a cassette deck up to the radio to tape your favorite song. Yes, the SoundExchange (run primarily by members of the RIAA) is concern people might be recording streaming audio onto their computers and not paying for songs!

Now even record industry reps have admitted this is not really a problem -- but it could be! As with the last century audio taping off the radio, its an amazingly labor-intensive process that yields very poor results. Netcasters already can't publish program guides, so you don't know when the songs you want will come up -- you'll just have to keep filling up your hard drive until the song comes along. Then you have to edit your recorded stream. And most netcasting is done at 64kbps -- about half the bit rate of most MP3s, so the difference in sound quality is similar to a 45 rpm vs. a cassette tape recording of a radio broadcast with a hand-held mic.

Why do that when there are plenty of other sources for songs that take less than five minutes to snag the tune you want from some P2P site?

The practicality of this request isn't open for discussion, however. If a netcaster protests, it could be intepreted as a sign that they're not "seriously negotiating," and the royalty bill comes due.

What does that mean for you? Expect a return to clunky, buggy media players that don't work very well. If the RIAA can't kill Internet radio, at least they can severely cripple it.

Look up.

In a previous post I tried to put the demands of the SoundExchange into perspective by positing what would happen if the government did the same thing to your withholding. To continue that analogy, imagine the federal government coming to you last Monday and saying, "You now owe us 30% more in withholding from each paycheck you've received since January 1st. If you cooperate with us and agree to spy on your neighbor, we won't collect this money. If you choose to resist, or at any future time do not do this duty to our satisfaction, you must pay this tax bill immediately, with interest."

Look up.

Then contact your senators and representatives. It's past time for legislative action.

- Ralph

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