Copyright drama’s getting on my nerves

This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

You might not be aware of it but there was an online protest this week.

Copyright issues were in the spotlight again yesterday (NZ time) during what was dubbed the Day of Silence, a day internet radio stations were asked to stop playing music to protest the retroactive royalty rate increases that are scheduled to come into effect on July 15 and could put many of the smaller webcasters out of business.

The Radio and Internet Newsletter publisher Kurt Hanson organised the protest to show that silence is “what the internet could be reduced to on or shortly after” the royalty increase begins.

The Copyright Royalty Board set the ball rolling back in March, when it announced a big increase in royalties for internet broadcasters, moving them from a per-song rate to a per-listener rate, retroactive to the beginning of 2006 and to double during the next five years. Ouch.

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Since then there has been all sorts of huffing and puffing between the broadcasters, the board, judges and now the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

So far, nothing has come of all the lobbying to politicians but SoundExchange, the licensing authority backed by the big record labels, has offered a small compromise for small webcasters.

The plan is that the small players will be exempt from the new royalty payments until 2010 but the big boys will still have to stump up with the extra cash.

No one’s particularly happy with either the announcement nor the compromise.

The whole copyright drama is starting to get on my nerves. Music companies would have us believe they are suffering, that their managers and artists are down to their last gazillion dollars because everyone is downloading music off the internet, burning copies of CDs and listening to so much music online that they don’t have to buy it any more.

However, that’s not always the case. I use Last FM as a way of tracking what I listen to the most and finding new music to enjoy. The “scrobbling” software from the sites monitors the songs I play and tells me which other members are listening to the same or similar music. Since becoming a member of the site, I’ve actually bought 2 CDs by artists I’d never heard of before Last FM.

After reading the site’s forum, it would appear I’m not alone _ many of the members say they have increased their spending on music since joining up.

Interestingly, Last FM didn’t join in the protest. On the site’s blog, Felix Miller says: “We do not want to punish our listeners for our problems, period. If a commercial challenge comes up, we have to deal with it.”

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