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I want my, I want my, I want my...WMSV

The View From Here

My hometown’s university has a pretty good college radio station. Whenever I’m back in Starkville (or about 40 miles from it), I spin my FM dial to 91.1 — WMSV, broadcasting from the Mississippi State University campus.

Great music. Good memories. And thanks to the Internet, I’ve also been able to enjoy the station’s broadcast via the World Wide Web.

Tuning in by one of our Mac G4s helps Deadline Day around the MBJ — every Wednesday — feel like a trip back to the “good ol’ days,” which judging by my taste in television, music and clothes, were the early 1990s. With my online connection to State’s radio station, I can keep up with news, sports and the latest releases from ordinary, average campus-circuit, frat-party, smoky-bar, 3:42-in-the-morning-eating-Domino’s-pizza-and-drinking-warm-beer bands.

Good ol’ days, indeed.

Regrettably, thanks to an overreaching federal law and what seems to boil down to recording industry greed, I’m without my WMSV online augmentation.

The bandwidth is silent thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (the DMCA) and its provisions for making webcasters pay royalties and keep track of how music is played over a station’s site.

WMSV quit playing music over the Internet in late March. In its April 4th edition, The Christian Science Monitor ran a story about the DMCA’s impact on college, community and other noncommercial radio stations and used the situation in Starkville as an example.

Why is this fight between webcasters and the recording industry important? The future, of course.

“…the battle is shaping up to be one that could determine whether online radio winds up in the hands of the many or the few,” reads the Monitor.

If you know anything about over-the-air, commercial radio today, you know that a few companies own most of the stations. Out of simple economic necessity, the music that these stations are playing has to reach the largest audience possible to appeal to as many advertisers as possible.

It’s big business, and while it works for those stations, their corporate parents and the listeners who enjoy listening to the contrived pop-urban-hip/hop-country cacophony, it doesn’t work for me.

And, I’m not alone.

As digital technology blossomed in the 1990s, interesting music was finding its way to more listeners. No-label bands set up Web sites to sell their tapes and CDs or let fans download MP3s. Then college and community radio stations adopted webcasting as more people went online with higher-speed connections.

It was a golden age for listeners, but golden ages never last very long.

The recording industry, the major labels, their attorneys and investors decided they were losing money and have been working hard to figure out a way to make a few more bucks from new technology ever since. Which is fine, because that’s what they’re expected to do. However, millions of listeners and thousands of webcasters are disturbed by how expensive and destructive the royalties the recording industry wants to collect would be to Internet radio.

In May, the U.S. Copyright Office, which was charged with determining an appropriate royalty rate, will decide whether or not to accept the findings of CARP, the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel.

According to SaveInternetRadio.org, “…webcasters believe that the CARP ruling may be harsher than Congress originally intended when it passed the DMCA” and offers a few reasons “…why the CARP ruling may kill Internet radio:”

• The Internet radio industry is very young and its audience is as yet too small to interest most advertisers. Thus, most webcasters have seen very little revenue to date.

• While CARP’s proposed royalty rate might be manageable for Internet radio properties owned by multi-billion-dollar corporations…it will effectively bankrupt the vast majority of webcasters.

• In the four years that have elapsed since the DMCA was written, technology has evolved significantly. Virtually no one contends that record companies are losing business to Internet radio, which is generally transmitted in relatively low quality and is not saved on consumers’ devices.

Determining what’s “fair” is always complicated when both sides on an issue make compelling arguments. But I hope that the CARP findings are rejected. It would be a win for listeners, webcasters and music and programming that doesn’t fit the commercial mainstream but is of great value nonetheless.

While most music lovers, listeners and webcasters are willing to reasonably compensate record companies and artists for their work, the expense and burden of the CARP rules would impair, if not destroy, one of the most exciting aspects of the Internet — more choices, more people, more voices.

In the meantime, I’ll be driving around the outskirts of Starkville. Listening.

Want to know more about this issue? Log on to http://www.saveinternetradio.org or http://ruf.rice.edu/~willr/cb//sos

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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