When I am writing, I like to listen to ambient techno music. My favorite source for this music has been, for the past two years or so, SomaFM from San Francisco, on their channel called “Groove Salad.” Like most people, I suspect, I have been meaning to send them a donation for a while, but some things slip when life is hectic, even though I knew that Soma and other internet radio stations were under threat of closure depending on what the Librarian of Congress decided about royalties to pay to artists, as was required under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Then in mid-July, after the Librarian had decided on the royalties they should pay, I went to SomaFM and saw this headline:
Killed by the RIAA. June 20, 2002.
With CARP royalties of $500 a DAY, SomaFM cannot continue broadcasting. SomaFM is just one of many internet stations forced off the air by RIAA-sponsored legislation.
Yes, you read right. $15,000 a month, $180,000 a year (well, based on our last few months extrapolated over the next 12 months, we would have to pay $176,541 in RIAA royalties.
Don’t listen to the RIAA press release that says most small webcasters will only pay the minimum $500 a year. Any station with more than an average of 5 concurrent listeners will be paying more than that minimum.
I have been struggling with this issue for the past three months. I enjoy internet radio (especially given how much of broadcast radio is utter drivel and commercials), especially SOMA-FM and WOXY 97-X, the station I listened to in college. But I deeply, truly believe that the exchange of value for value is a core component of life, and that artists deserve some recompense for their artistic endeavors. In this case, though, it’s not clear that the artists would be the real beneficiaries of the CARP royalties, and it’s more clear that the RIAA is using this as another tool in its toolkit of technological stultification in an attempt to maintain its grasp on existence in the face of dynamic change.
The small internet radio broadcasters are not the flawless heroes here, though. Why did they not consider a subscription model, in which regular listeners like myself would pay for full access to all channels, or a by-channel subscription? They could still offer some free content. I think this business model would work better for radio than it has for, say, Salon.com. But the fact remains that even I would support such a model only if I had confidence that the CARP/DMCA royalties were going to the artists, and not to RIAA. This means that IF SomaFM does successfully come back online, I am writing a check to them, pronto, because I believe in the exchange of value for value, and I need to get off of my flaky duff and put my money where my soul is.
The Doc Searls article in Linux Journal is a fabulous analysis of what’s going on, including the recently introduced Internet Radio Fairness Act that may modify some of the consequences of the CARP/DMCA legislation. I have not read the IRFA, and I cannot comment on pending legislation, but take it upon yourselves to learn about this debate (visit sites like Save Internet Radio and Radio and Internet Newsletter, and RIAA, think about its effects on your life and liberty, and act accordingly. Don’t be complacent; remember the importance of eternal vigilance.