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Feds to rehear Webcaster fee dispute

The U.S. Copyright Royalty Board has granted a series of requests for a rehearing on a contentious decision that would elevate royalty fees required of Internet radio services.

In a one-paragraph document issued Tuesday, Chief Copyright Royalty Judge James Scott Sledge invited all of the parties who requested the rehearing to submit documents detailing their positions and arguments by April 2.

Entities that filed petitions with the board before Monday's deadline included groups representing college radio operators and small commercial Webcasters, Clear Channel Communications Inc., , and SoundExchange, the non-profit organization that collects the royalty payments and lobbied for the changes in the first place. NPR has said it also plans to take its case to a federal appeals court.

The new rules (PDF), released about two weeks ago, call for rate hikes of .08 cents per song per listener retroactive to 2006. They would also climb to .19 cents per song by 2010, which amounts to a 30 percent increase per year. Each station would also have to hand over a minimum $500 royalty payment under the ruling.

Those changes may not sound significant on their face, but critics argue the new burden will imperil small Webcasters, and other commercial and public radio stations have taken issue with the new methodology as well. Recording industry-backed SoundExchange, by contrast, argues that the three-judge panel's decision was "fair and reasonable" and will ensure artists are properly compensated.