This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Media Unspun email newsletter and is Copyright 2002 by Keith Dawson.
M E D I A   U N S P U N
The Silence of the Webcasters

If Internet radio stops playing in the forest, will anyone stop hearing it? A loose coalition of small Webcasters is planning a day of silence tomorrow to protest proposed royalty rules they say would ruin them.

The Christian Science Monitor ran a comprehensive wrap-up of the squabble earlier this month, calling it a battle that "could determine whether online radio winds up in the hands of the many or the few." At issue is an industry-proposed royalty rate for Webcast music -- which would be retroactive to 1998 -- that many small Webcasters say represents twice their revenues, or more. "We're calling this a bankruptcy rate," the San Jose Mercury News quoted a VP at Webcast portal

This fight has been simmering since February -- Unspun linked to coverage a month ago -- and has been heating up in recent days. CNET's and USA Today covered the day-of-silence angle, and and others took note last week when a group of congresspersons sent a concerned letter about the proposed royalties to the Librarian of Congress.

USA Today gave the recording industry some air time on the question, noting that the Recording Industry Association of America says they should not be last in line to get paid, watching while Webcasters pay for, for example, bandwidth. The Christian Science Monitor countered with a quote from a law professor who believes she knows what the RIAA is thinking: "Webcasting is not the place for the recording industry to collect all the money that it believes it is losing on CD sales because of peer-to-peer file sharing."

USA Today provided some of the only hard numbers Unspun came across in researching this hot-blooded fight. The paper quoted Gartner G2 figures for audience size: "16% of the 156 million adult Internet users ... listen to the estimated 10,000 Net radio stations," most of which average under 70,000 listeners a month. Come tomorrow morning, that might add up to a lot of slience. - Keith Dawson

Net radio to fall silent for a day

Net Radio Will Pull Plug to Protest Fees

Net radio fears heard in Congress (April 23)

Fees threaten to silence Web radio (April 4)

Can Internet Radio Survive? (March 28)

Web radio's last stand (March 27)

Plan to alter Internet radio (March 25)

Copyright Office Proposes Webcasting Regs (Feb. 20)