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At the third attempt, the Webcast relief bill HR.5469 passed the Senate in the early hours of this morning, although key issues of royalties and rates remain open. It's a significantly different beast to its predecessor, which crashed and burned shortly before the House adjourned last month.

Version One of the relief bill simply declared a moratorium on royalty collection, but never reached the floor of the House. In its place was a detailed alternative to the CARP rates that a handful of webcasters negotiated with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which benefit a few 'casters but deeply divided the community: as it sent hobbyists and college stations to the wall. (The saga is detailed on the Webcasters' Alliance site here).

Version Three, negotiated by Sen. Jesse Helms, defers the Day of Judgement. Specific per-song, per-listener royalties aren't stipulated, and the tiering structure for royalty liabilities has also been removed. This leaves the door open for non-commercial broadcasters to negotiate separately with the RIAA.

But the enforcement arm of the RIAA - SoundExchange - certainly doesn't seem to have think that much has changed.

"We are pleased that Congress found a way to implement the rates and terms for small webcasters that the House proposed last month. We will work expeditiously toward putting those rates and terms into effect as Congress has requested."

According to this InfoWorld report, a plan is being hatched to allow small 'casters to pay 10 per cent of revenues, or 7 per sent of expenses, up to $250,000 per year, or 12 per cent / 7 per cent over $250,000 per year.

But just who is negotiating "on behalf" of webcasters remains a mystery. The settlement may still do nothing to help smaller webcasters.

"I don't think this deal does ANYTHING to help hobby webcasters - one group that was vocally opposing the previous incarnation of HR5469," warns Rusty Hodges on his SomaFM site.

Doom and gloom were forecast by newsletter RAIN when the revised HR.5469 failed. RAIN had lobbied hard for the measure and hung its credibility on the passage of the contentious RIAA-negotiated bill and now, equally puzzlingly, proclaims "Victory!" … "a stunning victory for webcasters … a victory for common sense."

Hmm. ®

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