RAIN examines restrictions and waivers for web streams that play small number of artists

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Issue Date: 
Aug 28 2012 - 9:35am

From Issue:

iHeartRadio's All Beatles & Stones Radio station

Clear Channel's iHeartRadio has launched a new non-customizable stream called "All Beatles & Stones Radio." As its name suggests, the stream plays only music by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Inside Radio reports the station is a part of iHeartRadio's "Back To School" line-up of stations, one for every letter of the alphabet. "All Beatles & Stones" represents the letter A. Other featured artists will apparently include Passion Pit ("P"), Bananarama and the Bangles ("B"), Lupe Fasco ("L") and others. RAIN could not find these other stations on iHeartRadio's website (besides the custom radio stations for each artist). Inside Radio refers to them as iHeartRadio Original stations, but they do not appear at time of publication on iHeartRadio's Originals page (here).

iHeartRadio recently playedThe "All Beatles & Stones" stream -- which does not allow the user to skip songs -- includes nothing but Beatles and Rolling Stones music, sometimes with songs by the same artist back-to-back. The music is only broken-up by an occassional short identifier.

But most webcasters aren't allowed to do this. After all, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) imposes limits on the use of music within Internet radio streams for webcasters that intend to use the statutory license. For example, webcasters are not allowed to play more than 4 songs by the same artist in a 3 hour period -- a rule iHeartRadio's Beatles/Stones stream broke several times just during the composition of this article.

"These limits were placed seemingly to make it more difficult for listeners to copy songs, or for Internet radio stations to become a substitute for music sales," writes industry attorney David Oxenford (pictured below), now a partner with Wilkinson Barker Knauer. He outlines some of the other DMCA restrictions in the Broadcast Law Blog here.

However, it turns out the NAB negotiated with the four major music labels and A2IM in 2009 to waive some of these limits, including that 4-songs-by-the-same-artist rule. Those agreements were a part of the NAB's settlement with SoundExchange which set royalty rates through 2015 at a discount from what was decided by the Copyright Royalty Board (as was permitted by the Webcaster Settlement Acts; read more in RAIN here).

David Oxenford

However, as Oxenford wrote in 2009 (here) after reviewing each agreement between the NAB and labels, these waivers apply to web streams of over-the-air and HD-2 stations. They "do not cover Internet-only channels that a broadcaster may program on its website." It's possible Clear Channel is broadcasting the "All Beatles & Stones Radio" channel as an HD-2 or over-the-air station somewhere, in which case the DMCA restrictions would most likely not apply.

Additionally though, the DMCA's restrictions are only waived "insofar as the broadcaster does not 'depart materially from today's range of typical over-the-air radio programming practices,' citing specifically the practices of having DJs talk between songs and stations running commercials and PSAs between songs." Does the "Beatles & Stones" station's back-to-back music line-up, with only ocassional short identifiers, "depart materially" from today's "typical over-the-air radio programming practices"?

Other restrictions in some of the agreements, such as not streaming more than half the songs from an album or CD at any time within a 3 hour period, would make stations focusing on new artists with relatively small discographies like Passion Pit potentially difficult.

You can listen to iHeartRadio's "All Beatles & Stones Radio" station here. You can subscribe to Inside Radio's daily newsletter here.

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