Internet Radio Fairness Act

Chaffetz's Internet Radio Fairness Act aims to help streaming broadcasters, not just Pandora

Friday, July 20, 2012 - 12:15pm

Broadcaster streamingYesterday we reported on in-progress legislation from Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz that would aim to change the way Internet radio royalties are determined (RAIN coverage here).

Other trade publications also covered the story, but some presented the issue as "Pandora's fight," more or less: "Pandora’s in Washington, pushing for a 'level playing field' on its biggest expense – royalties" (here) and "Congress may help Pandora cut royalties" (here), for example.

But this is (or at least should be), broadcasters' fight, too. Broadcasters -- not just Pandora and other pureplay web radio services -- could have much to gain from what Chaffetz is trying to accomplish.

The statutory performance royalty rate for broadcasters' online streams, like pureplay webcasters, is currently determined by the Copyright Royalty Board using the "willing buyer/willing seller" standard. And that arguably led to rates for broadcasters so high for the 2006-2015 period that the NAB had to cut a separate deal with SoundExchange (just like Pandora and other webcasters did, RAIN coverage here).

The lower rates reached by that separate deal are still apparently unattractive, at least for Clear Channel, which recently cut a deal with Big Machine that exchanged a share of on-air revenue for a break on web royalties (RAIN coverage here and here). The company is reportedly hoping to make other such deals, a good illustration that the largest player in radio sees a future online, but recognizes that royalty rates need to change to better realize that future.

Chaffetz's bill, the Internet Radio Fairness Act, would reportedly move streaming radio royalty determinations to the more prevalent 801(b) standard, the same standard used for satellite radio and cable radio royalty rates. You can find more on the pending bill and the 801(b) standard in our earlier coverage here.

One could also argue that somewhat lower royalty rates will most likely benefit copyright owners too, since high rates are currently inhibiting investment in and the growth of the sector. Higher listening levels to Internet radio could mean greater royalties available to composers, artists, and labels.

All that said, it's important to remember that nothing in Chaffetz's bill -- which is still unfinished -- would actually change web radio royalty rates themselves. It would only change the way in which they are determined, opening the potential for fairer rates in the future.

Additionally, though Chaffetz says he's aiming for parity between music platforms, nothing in his bill reportedly deals with a performance royalty for traditional AM/FM broadcasts.

The Utah Congressman says he’ll determine the next steps for his bill by the end of the month. "We’ll probably get disrupted with the August break, but despite the present election, we’ll keep going forward," he told The Hill (here).

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