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RIAA-backed webcast bill ‘a disaster for the US’

Artists, 'casters unite against HR.5469

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Letters Some good may come out of the great webcasting betrayal - exclusively reported here and here - if the ire directed against the Recording Industry Association of America unites artists and broadcasters.

The controversial, "RIAA-written" bill which creates an alternative tariff for webcasters has divided the community: it provides nothing for academic, religious or non-profit broadcasters, and it's even angered popular stations we've spoken to. Introduced to the Senate yesterday, it's scheduled to hit the floor for the vote today.

The bill was originally introduced to buy webcasters a six month breathing space - royalties are due on October 20, the Library of Congress has ordered. But a breakaway group of commercial webcasters negotiated a deal with the RIAA.

We've received many letters on the subject, but none so eloquent as the following from Bill Pullman.

"This bill is a disaster to the Congress for passing it, to the independent artist and label movement, and to the webcasters as a whole," he writes. "The passage of this bill will irrevocably damage the Internet and all its potential in the United States - yet the rest of the world will carry on with reasonable controls and rewards"

I've written to RAIN on several occasions over the past two weeks in regards to this bill and they have deliberately avoided me, not even taking the time to respond. So I unsubscribed from their list today - the reporting has been so biased and misguided as to be a disgrace to all journalists.

There is very little doubt in my mind that this whole bill has been orchestrated by the RIAA. I have long suspected they were plants on the list from the RIAA.

I had extensive discussions with my own Congressperson's staff in DC (Jennifer Dunn) from early on the Monday morning after the weekend of those negotiations. Dunn was one of the cosigners on the bill - I had a feeling they were not aware of the meetings that took the bill from one paragraph to 28 pages; in fact when I mentioned that to the aide he said they would not accept anything different than the one paragraph. He indicated that as far as they knew the bill would come up at 6:30pm as scheduled and that there were no changes. I called back when I saw the first copy of the bill as 28 pages - they still did not have a copy so I emailed him one. He was looking at it when I told him it was up on the floor - by the time he had tuned it in, the bill had been passed. I suspect there was nobody in the chamber when it passed.

So as far as I can determine, the Congressperson who had signed on as a cosigner did not see the new bill at all - it would appear that she was hoodwinked by Sensenbrenner. The staff indicated to contact my Senator's office which I did (Maria Cantwell of Real Networks fame) - I informed them that this bill was detrimental to webcasters; I also discussed how the bill went through - they were rather taken aback by the situation. I indicated it was also imperative to defend the right to have private contracts between artists and webcasters as provided by both the Copyright Act and the DMCA - the RIAA had attempted to eliminate this right protected by the US Constitution. As it stands this current bill will eliminate any legal challenges (though a direct violation of US federal and state law) - by direction of course, of the RIAA in the terminology definition stage of the acts wording. A trade organization that deliberately and repeatedly (DMCA) advocates breaking the law and stealing rights protected by the US Constitution, to defend their member businesses, is tantamount to domestic terrorism.

This bill is the single most detrimental piece of legislation to come out of the US except for the DMCA - what this bill does is cover the holes that were in the DMCA in favor of the RIAA. It affects third parties - like any operation that has links to stations and streams - the RIAA by this bill can come after any third party to collect royalties.

Companies that have station listings and no streams of their own will have to pay duplicate fees to the RIAA - for example if IMNetworks carries station A from Texas, Texas A pays fees to the RIAA; IMNetworks will have to pay fees to the RIAA for that stream as well because listeners can access the station from the IM website - so if we have six websites like IMNetworks, Windows Media, Real Networks, AOL, Shoutcast, and Icecast all listing the station A from Texas, by this bill ALL six websites will have to pay music licensing fees to the RIAA; this on top of the fees that station A is paying. So you are going to technically have multiple fees getting paid to the RIAA, but you can rest assure the RIAA will only pay its 50% of the first fees received.

If a third party is a communication carrier like Cingular Wireless, for example, and they begin to provide high speed bandwidth cell phone communications, the next step would be to provide streaming services over their network - again this bill provides for fees that the RIAA would collect.

But as always with pros in the music industry there is never any accountability - there is no way for auditing of the books with regular public statements. I provided comments to the US Copyright office back in early March that specifically went into details about accountability address and data management. Nowhere in all the months since the documentation became public record, have the document management issues been addressed. The RIAA does not have the data processing capability to handle the requested log information - not even remotely close to having any capability; and there is no private company they can higher that will have the capacity required by this bill (and/or CARP).

This bill is a disaster to the Congress for passing it, to the independent artist and label movement, and to the webcasters as a whole. The passage of this bill will irrevocably damage the Internet and all its potential in the United States - yet the rest of the world will carry on with reasonable controls and rewards. The writing is already on the wall as the US has lost its lead in streaming on the Internet - add this bill and the continued corruption of those leading the RIAA member labels into bankruptcy by this stupidity, and the music industry which started in this country, will die here first. Don't think it will happen? Just watch! In talking with over 1800 labels and artists over the summer months across the US, I did not find one artist or label that supported the RIAA - not one. Represent the artists? I don't think so!

Bob Pullman
President, IUS LLC
Renton, WA



Amazingly, only three publications have covered the split in the webcasting community. Us,

The Inquirer

(started by

Register

co-founder Mike Magee) and

Slashdot

, although this is likely to change we hear. Taking a break from campaigning for the RIAA-negotiated proposal, RAIN finally acknowledged our report yesterday, implying that it reflected the discontent of one person: Ann Gabriel. In fact webcasters of all sizes and denominations have contacted

The Register

since Friday, reflecting the diversity of the community, as reflected in our coverage.



Opposition to HR.5469 spans the breadth of the webcast community, and beyond: we've heard it from artists and broadcasters, advertisers and non-profits, and parties who might financially gain from the revised bill, but oppose it nevertheless.

A misleading rebuttal by Rusty Hodge of highly regarded 'caster SomaFM - one of a handful to support the revised bill and which was appended to Slashdot's story - has since been removed by Hodge from his website. Perhaps because of this.

The Senate votes later today. ®

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