Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Much for technological neutrality

SoundExchange, a spin-off of the RIAA, has started to collect royalty fees from Internet-based radio stations as retribution for the songs they play, regardless the status of commercial or non-commercial that those radio stations may have. This comes as result of the ruling of the Copyright Royalty Judges of March 2, 2007, who decided for the collecting agency.

Internet-based stations and webcasters are asking the board to reconsider its decision, which will add singers, musicians and record labels to the list of those already receiving royalty fees from these stations (until now they did pay fees to writers and composers). The argument can be made, again, about how fallacious are the collecting agencies arguments and how far from sound legal and equitable principles those type of rulings are. According to The Journal, John Simson, executive director of SoundExchange said that “[a]rtists should be paid for the value of their hard work, their investment and their creativity”, forgetting that the fees paid to writers and composers are the ones designed to reward creativity and also forgetting, of course by coincidence, to mention that most of the fees that his organization collects go to the record labels and not to the artists.

However, what would make a better case to have the board reconsidering the ruling is the extra burden that imposes on Internet-based stations, which would directly contravene minimum principles of technological neutrality. For example, non-Internet-based radio stations don’t have to pay SoundExchange fees because the technology predates the creation of the collecting agency, which is the same that saying that cars emissions should not be subject to EPA regulations because cars were created before the environmental agency. The truth is that the difference is based in the fact that record labels see terrestrial radio as a mean of promoting artists and sales and has nothing to do with the age of the technology. But what shows more clearly the difference in treatment is the data that Internet-based stations are supposed to collect.
Over the air radio stations must only track the name of the artist, album, record company, date and time songs were played, but Internet-based radio stations must keep a log of all of that plus the number of listeners who tune into the station when the song is played, how many listeners actually heard the song and how many aggregate hours that song has been played throughout the day.

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