This is a very important post by Adam Conner over at MyDD. Please have a read (I have posted it verbatim as he posted) and take action to help save internet radio! Props to Adam for this comprehensive post and for lending your research.
You may have noticed that lately many of my Breaking Blue posts have focused on the impending demise of internet radio and with it, the Pandora internet radio that I so adore.
Nancy Scola did a masterful job detailing the situation in a post a few weeks back. But a short summary of the situation is that a recent rate increase passed by the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), and backed by RIAA, significantly increased the rates for internet music broadcasters – to the point where it will bankrupt most of them once it goes into effect.
Luckily, the CRB is part of the United States Copyright Office of the Library of Congress. Which means it comes under congressional jurisdiction. So last week, Congressman Jay Inslee (D-WA) along with Republican co-sponsor Don Manzullo (R-IL) introduced the Internet Radio Equality Act:
The Inslee-Manzullo Internet Radio Equality Act, H.R. 2060, would provide royalty parity for Internet radio providers. It would vacate the CRBâ€™s March 2 decision and apply the same royalty rate-setting standard to commercial Internet radio, as well as satellite radio, cable radio and jukeboxes. A transition rate of 7.5 percent of revenue would be set through 2010.
There’s an extra sense of urgency around all of this as the rate increases are set to go into effect on May 15th and the official website for the campaign to save internet radio, SaveNetRadio.org, has taken to calling it “The Day the Music Dies.”
Late last week I was forwarded an email announcing that Tim Westergren, the Founder and Chief Strategy Officer for Pandora, would be in town on Monday lobbying Congress and had arranged for a DC townhall of sorts. Pandora being my favorite internet music broadcaster and me being a blogger of sorts with an admittedly selfish interest in saving internet radio, I RSVPed for the event.
I arrived at the sleek new be bar by the Convention Center about 40 minutes into the event, in the midst of question and answer session with the aforementioned Pandora founder Tim Westergren. About fifty or so people were seated, a mix of DC professionals, musicians, and generally people who looked a lot cooler then myself. Some government employees mentioned that they depended on Pandora to help get them through their day, since the federal government blocks a lot of websites, but Pandora was not yet one of them.
Also present at the event was a lawyer who represented an interest that I was never quite clear on. She claimed she was independent, then something about working for artists rights, and then seemed to come off as a shill for the RIAA. Her focus seemed to be an attempt to divide the internet radio coalition by focusing on the difference between the big and small broadcasters (Pandora is one of the largest) and that the big broadcasters were taking advantage of musicians. The issue itself is, of course, complex and higher rates could translate into more money for the artists broadcast on internet radio stations. But the loss in revenue from almost every internet radio station going off the air seems like it would be a much much great loss, which was the point expressed by several artists present at the event. She also attempted to introduced the idea of a secret last minute deal for the big broadcasters and screwing everyone else, which was denied by the Pandora folks.
I got a chance to ask a question of Tim, asking him whether or not he and the other internet broadcasters viewed this as primarily an Internet or Music fight. He answered that without hesitation that they viewed it as a music fight. He listed off the coalition that had been assembled including musicians, listeners, the broadcasters, NPR, profit and non-profit companies (note the common theme – music). Activist organizations and even major internet companies you’d think would be interested were noticeably absent from his list.
This actually took me by surprise, since I had thought of this fight primarily in a context similar to the internet fights we’ve been engaging in, like net neutrality. But I guess I can understand why an internet music company would view and approach this through a music prism.
He noted that the forces that they were going up against which would be familiar to those following the net neutrality fight. They’re going up against very intrenched forces, which have influence derived from long-developed relationships with lawmakers, which their young industry doesn’t have the luxury of building before May 15th. Westergren called this moment a “watershed,” a “pivotal point in music space.”
Tim noted the grassroots efforts of listeners and bloggers and was particularly proud that their campaign to fax members of congress had shut down the fax infrastructure on the Hill. It was almost a surreal moment, the founder of a pioneering internet venture, speaking about how a main achievement of their campaign to apply pressure to Congress was crashing the fax machines on Capitol Hill. It was at this moment that I decided that the save internet radio movement might benefit from the netroots taking a stronger interest.
As “The Day the Music Dies” fast approaches, there’s a huge opportunity for the progressive netroots to join with a coalition and help notch another victory for the internet. Or music. Or whatever category this one would fall into. Plus we could introduce some of our patented “make congress pay attention to us” techniques to take us beyond the crashing the faxes stage of activism (to crashing gates).
You can start by heading over to SaveNetRadio.org and contacting your Representative and asking them to support the Inslee-Manzullo Internet Radio Equality Act, H.R. 2060. I’ll be doing an interview with Tim Westergren from Pandora and speaking with someone from Congressman Inslee’s office later this week, so check back soon for my follow-up.