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Internet

Webcasters' silence is heard

Independent Webcasters protesting a proposed licensing regime for Net radio draw crowds of listeners, urging them to rally in support of lower royalty fees.

    Independent Webcasters protesting a proposed licensing regime for Net radio drew crowds of listeners Wednesday, urging them to rally in support of lower royalty fees.

    As previously reported, hundreds of small online radio stations were expected to turn off their music streams in a "Day of Silence." Many Webcasters fell entirely silent Wednesday while others replaced their music streams with periods of silence interspersed with public service announcements. In addition, some are running a 12-hour talk show called "The Emergency Webcasting System."

    The protest stems from a proposed royalty fee set by the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP), requiring Webcasters to pay record companies a fraction of a cent per listener per song, and pay per song for streaming an over-the-air broadcast online. For many smaller Webcasters, operating independently, the proposed fees could hurt them financially and drive them out of business.

    The U.S. Copyright Office, which appoints members to CARP, is expected to vote on the rates by May 21.

    Kurt Hanson, a publisher for a radio and Internet newsletter called "RAIN," said as of Wednesday afternoon the rally had gathered 100,000 listeners to the Web site, SaveInternetRatio.org. The site has served as a campaign hub where people can find more information about the CARP ruling and participate in the rally by contacting congressional members.

    Although the Webcasters have had success in gathering a group of congressional members to support them, they also hope the "Day of Silence" will attract even more support. The Webcasters are encouraging listeners to contact their legislators about their feelings toward the proposed royalty fee and to send that message to the Library of Congress.

    Hanson said he has been pleased with the results so far, saying that the SaveInternetRadio site received as much traffic as it could handle. Hanson said the server crashed twice because of the influx of listeners to the site. He added that the 12-hour marathon talk shows have also received an overwhelming response, with "hundreds of thousands of people" tuning in.

    "This is probably the largest audience of any Internet radio thing that's been done," Hanson said. "I hope that we'll know in a week or two...We'll see more support for the position that a royalty rate is not suppose to decimate the industry."

    A representative for a record industry group that collects Webcasting royalties, however, said the Webcasters should stop protesting and cooperate with artists and record labels. He said artists and record companies deserve fair compensation for their creations. Moreover, he said, Webcasters should not be entitled to a "free ride" or subsidy.

    "While the purpose of this protest is misguided, a 'Day of Silence' is a fitting theme," John Simson, executive director of Sound Exchange, said in a statement. "If those who make the music we all love are not fairly compensated for their work, that will be the result? Silence."