As the Sunday (July 15) due date for internet broadcasters to pay new royalty rates approaches, it’s still not clear who will be left on the web on Monday. The new rates, as we’ve discussed here before, follow a Copyright Royalty Board ruling earlier this year specifying higher per-listener-per-song rates paid to artists and labels retroactive to January, 2006, potentially putting webcasters large and small out of business. There are some last-minute developments; first, on Wednesday a federal appeals court denied a petition from webcasters hoping to delay the rate increase. Then, late on Thursday night, two U.S. representatives introduced a bill that would at least postpone the Copyright Board ruling, although Billboard quotes sources as saying “it’s unlikely this bill could or would be passed quickly.”
The unlikely coalition of companies like Yahoo, AOL, and Viacom (who say 47 percent their 2006 revenue would go to the new royalties) with independent webcasters like BAGeL Radio and noncommercial stations like KCRW makes parsing the situation a bit difficult; are big corporations just trying to get out of paying artists what their music is worth by raising the flag of “musical diversity?” On the other hand, KCRW’s own Celia Hirschmann reports (pdf link) that SoundExchange, the RIAA offshoot that advised the Copyright Board on the new rules, has engaged in some shady tactics of its own, like proposing a “compromise” proposal that required webcasters to abandon support for new rules in the meantime.
In any event, Billboard again quotes their super-secret sources as saying there is “no present intention” to enforce the new rules: the new rates are apparently a “right” the artists and labels will hold, but whether to exercise it or not will be up to them. Unless they do so, webcasters large and small will still be on your computers on Monday.