According to Kurt Hanson, webstreaming audio tracks whose copyright is held by clients of the Recording Industry Association of America (what I’ll call “RIAA tracks”) just became a lot more expensive.
In a new fee schedule (effective retroactively to the start of 2006), online radio stations playing RIAA tracks now have to pay $0.0011 per song-per listener (also known as a “performance”). This means that the RIAA track webcaster has to figure out how many downloads of the song there were and pay that times $0.0011 every month this year. Next year and every year through 2010 this fee will go up, according to the current fee schedule:
|$.0008 per performance
|$.0011 per performance
|$.0014 per performance
|$.0018 per performance
|$.0019 per performance
And no RIAA track webcaster pays less than $500/month; that’s the new minimum payment in this scheme.
I’m not sure if this is in addition to or a replacement for the content restrictions which prevent playing songs from the same artist more than a certain number of times in a row, or in a 3-hour period, and so on. But perhaps that doesn’t matter—it’s not hard to see how the new fee schedule makes webcasting RIAA tracks completely unaffordable. Just run some sample calculations out to 1 year and watch the fees add up beyond what small stations (individuals and small volunteer outfits) can afford to pay.
And then there’s the question raised any time webcasting with the RIAA comes up: Webcasters should take on all of this complexity, cost, and hassle so they can do business with an organization that treats people so shabbily?
I know that many artists don’t see the harm in signing with an RIAA client. They think it will be their path to riches even though it’s far more likely they’ll have to make albums just to pay off the label/loan shark. This fee schedule, written at the behest of the RIAA, does not benefit artists. Read the definition of “performance” closely and you’ll see the incentive to play fewer RIAA tracks and webcast to fewer people. I suggest that artists record and distribute their own work online, and retain the copyright to their songs as well as their recordings. Artists are often less popular than they’d like to be, so it’s better to retain copyright power than to sign it over to a label. Artists who still want to work with the RIAA through their label should advocate for a small uniform fee anyone can pay the RIAA in exchange for distribution rights in any medium. If the fee is small it will encourage compliance and more fees will be paid to the RIAA (I’ll be surprised if a dime of this money goes to any but the most popular artists who need the money the least, but more exposure is an indirect benefit). I’m guessing this is where things are headed and once again we’ll (as Cory Doctorow once put it) drag the RIAA “kicking and screaming to the money tree”.