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It's culturecide. The RIAA-inspired royalty tax has already taken some of the most highly regarded webcasters off the Net. SomaFM, the San Francisco-based station, ceased broadcasting today.

"To stay on the air, SomaFM will have to pay about $500 a day in fees to the RIAA," the broadcaster said in a message posted on its website.

Under the revised fees published by the Library of Congress yesterday, SomaFM says it would need to find $15,372 in additional RIAA royalties - or $7.69 per listener per month. That's on top of other royalties and overheads. Analog radio broadcasters don't need to pay this fee.

The Doc has some more figures here.

But what's crippling these broadcasters is that they have to pay back royalties on almost four years' of broadcasts to 1998. SomaFM estimated this would leave a station with 1,000 listeners with a $500,000 dollar bill to the RIAA. This becomes due in October.

Other webcasters announcing that they were ceasing broadcasting included popular French ambient station BlueMars. "CARP has just killed microbroadcasting. The dream is over," writes Frances Gastellu ('lone') - one of a bunch of very cool guys at Nullsoft. (We'd have posted this story earlier ago if we hadn't spent an hour at the Aegis Corporation's web site).

SomaFM asks if the RIAA is greedy or stupid? The answer is both - but there's a third reason that trumps either, and that's that it wants complete control. Popular culture has never belong to the RIAA, or anyone but the artists and their audience - us. The RIAA knows that control is ebbing away, not because of digital copying but because the industry hasn't had a new idea in twenty years, as Michael Wolff discussed in his New York Magazine article recently. [Ignore embarrassing comparisons of novelists to rock stars - it's otherwise a good read]

The industry has scalped along by repackaging baby boomer hits in CD format, while an underground which it never understood and couldn't control thrived. Closing down alternative promotion channels such as microbroadcasting - which actually helps record sales - ensures that the RIAA's shell game can continue a little longer.

But it's only when there's enough support for the notion that popular culture belongs to us, - and that to us as a society it really, really matters and that constitutional protection from the pigopolists, isn't just an option, but a necessity - that we'll be safe. ®

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