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US broadcast licences don't cover online streams

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US radio stations will have to pay extra to stream their shows on the Internet, the US Copyright Office has ruled.

The ruling follows by demands from the music industry's main trade organisation, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), that Net-streamed media should be covered by new royalty agreements, not existing rights to broadcast songs across the airwaves.

The RIAA's campaign is part of its attempt to wrest control of online media royalty payments. Last month, it won the right to levy a royalty on every song transmitted across the Net by streaming media companies.

In the past, radio stations have obtained the right to broadcast music from music publishing organisations. Royalties are paid as a licence fee which is shared among artists either in general or according to a stations' actual broadcasts, depending on the precise nature of the licence.

Broadcasters had argued that online streams taken directly and simultaneously from their broadcast output was covered by existing royalty licences. Not so, according to the Copyright Office's ruling. Now stations will have to pay twice to use any given song: once for the radio broadcast and again for the Net transmission. The amount they will have to pay will be determined next year.

Radio stations will clearly hate the news, but it was welcomed by Net-only broadcasters, whose own trade body, the Digital Media Association (DiMA), had called for the ruling to ensure its members operate on a level playing field with the broadcasters. DiMA's membership includes online music companies and e-commerce operations, like Amazon.com, that stream samples from CDs they sell online.

Of course, now that DiMA has its wish - thanks to the RIAA - it will have to now fight to persuade its partner to hand over control of royalty collection to an independent body. In the past, DiMA has said the RIAA should not be given the right to collect royalties from streaming companies, let alone broadcasters too. ®

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