The Music Licensing System Sucks

Another attempt at musical innovation on the web bites the dust:

We are sorry, but we are currently unable to make the various Cross Rhythms radio programmes available as Podcasts. When we launched the service we believed that we could do so under our existing radio station licences. We have subsequently found out we were in error in this, and it is right for us to put on hold the provision of this popular service until we have the relevant permissions given. We are now beginning this process.

However we have also learned that there is no simple licensing body that covers Podcasts, and it is a complex process to get permissions. Thus we are not sure when we will be able to re-launch this service.

4 thoughts on “The Music Licensing System Sucks

  1. What interesting timing; my community radio station is currently engaged in discussion about webcasting. WEFT 90.1 FM in Champaign, Illinois USA used to have a webcast but we gave it up when the rules changed for what we could webcast. WEFT plays a lot of RIAA-licensed material (virtually every music show) and we’re faced with complying with the RIAA licensing terms which include rules like “In any three (3) hour period you can transmit up to three (3) different selections of sound recordings from any one CD, but you can transmit no more than two (2) consecutively.”.

    When they say “CD” they mean CDs, tapes, and LPs (this is made clear in their language). And a selection of sound is roughly a track or a song. So this condition effectively prohibits playing a tribute to an artist because that would likely mean playing more than 3 different selections from a single CD and almost certainly mean playing more than 2 such tracks consecutively. This also strongly limits leaving a CD on to play during the hours when nobody is staffing the station (typically the overnight hours). There are also restrictions on playing more than a certain number of tracks by the same artist which also effectively stop most tribute shows. Tribute shows aren’t that common, but they now serve as opportunities to place the station at risk for copyright infringement when a popular music artist dies or when something happens (like Johnny Cash’s recent death and the popular bio pic about him).

    Some of the conditions hinge on a 3-hour window. A three-hour window is longer than most radio shows which means that most shows will have to plan their playlist not just according to the DJ’s particular wishes and format for the show, but according to what previous shows played too (up to 3 hours worth). The window of time slides with time–so in the first minute of your show, you have to pay attention to what your station aired in the previous 2 hours and 59 minutes. It’s possible that a show’s Johnny Cash quota (for instance) is used up by a previous show, thus previous shows can effectively restrict what current shows can play. As I understand it, David Byrne was recently sent an RIAA nastygram essentially for playing too much Missy Elliott on his webcast.

    Setting up alternative playlists for on-air and online broadcasts means doing twice as much work. Realistically, this won’t be done and if anyone does it they’re likely to simply re-air the same online broadcast every time they have a show. This defeats the purpose of attracting users abroad because they’ll just get a repeat every week or two.

    I don’t know what we’ll do, but it is my hope we’ll seriously consider all of the legal options before us and weigh the issue in terms of how much we value our freedom to determine our own playlists. I hope we do not weigh the issue in terms of “wouldn’t it be cool to webcast again?” (well, yes it would, but that’s hardly a basis for sound policy decision making) or thinking technocratically: “we’ve got some bandwidth, we can get an inexpensive contract with a webcasting hoster, and we can get a cheap computer to do the webcasting, so let’s do it!”.

  2. As far as I can tell, the locked down nature of current internet licensing system benefits no one. Up and coming and established artists want their music to be played, and benefit from the sales and recognition that brings. The Arctic Monkeys are a good example of a band who built their fan base using freely available downloads on the internet, and went on to produce the fastest selling debut album in UK chart history, proving that free downloads can really help sales.

    Currently, UK licences are only available for internet stations who stream their content directly, without allowing the user to control the playback experience. This means the user cannot pause, rewind or fast forward the audio stream.

    TiVo, Sky+ and the like are now allowing users to pause, rewind and fast forward live radio and television stations by using buffering on a hard disk recording system. Some of the more expensive DAB radios have flash memory to acheive the same thing. The traditional broadcast model is changing by using technology in the receivers to give the listener or viewer the flexibility that they expect from the internet. However simultaneously the internet is being forced in to the traditional broadcast model by the short sitedness of the licensing bodies.

    Downloadable content (such as pod casts) is a complete no-no. The licensing bodies are concerned that licensing these services will result in an increase in piracy. They may be thinking that users of these services will open up the files and painstakingly decompress and extract their favourite songs to avoid paying for them. Is this really going to be a problem when you can buy a download for .79p? Is it really worth the hassle for anyone to bother? Remember being back at high school recording the top 40 on Sunday afternoons, pressing pause just before they speak? This isn’t anything new.

    I’m not saying broadcasters shouldn’t pay royalties for playing music, of course they should. But the fees should be relative to direct advertising revenue, allowing independent broadcasters to play music as they wish. Commercial broadcasters who use the music content to sell adverts should pay a fair amount to support the artists that make their market possible.

    Anyway those are my few thoughts on the matter! How about a times online article on this Gerv? :)