- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Some webcasters are pulling no punches when it comes to protesting a recent decision by U.S. copyright authorities they say will run them out of business.

“The recording industry giants apparently don’t care who gets hurt as long as they get more money,” says one commentary circulating Web radio channels, suggesting that the Internet Radio Amber Alert System, an industry-sponsored service that lets webcasters air the alerts immediately after they are issued, could be an unintended casualty. “This could very well cost a child’s life. Maybe your child’s life.”

Savenetradio.org — which describes itself as “a coalition of independent webcasters who have had enough” — has posted two dozen audio spots recently protesting the March 2 vote of the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) to increase the royalty rates webcasters have to pay to artists and record labels for streaming music.

The CRB’s decision set per-song, per-user streaming rates for five years, retroactive from 2006 and increasing through 2010. That adds up to $1.28 per listener an hour, based on 2006 rates, according to the Radio and Internet Newsletter.

That figure, the industry argues, would eclipse total revenue and thereby drive webcasters out of business.

“The bad guys are back,” a dramatic voice booms in one ad comparing record companies to gangsters, complete with audio clips of Michael Douglas’ “greed is good” speech from the movie “Wall Street.”

Paul Philbeck, operator of RadioNC.com and creator of the Amber Alert ad, defends the outspoken spots, which are posted on webcastersunite.net.

“Right now we have 100 stations that are [using the announcements],” says Mr. Philbeck, whose Marion, N.C., radio stream has anywhere from 10 to 50 listeners at a given time. “The goal of the [spots] obviously are to get the word out as to what’s actually happening.”

John Simson, executive director of SoundExchange, the D.C. nonprofit in charge of distributing royalties to artists and record labels, rejects Mr. Philbeck’s PSA as over the top.

“That’s just ludicrous. This is about music — this isn’t about anything else,” he says, stressing that U.S. rates are in step with those across Europe.

“If someone wants to have a public service channel and broadcast Amber Alerts, they’re free to do that,” he says.

Last week, CRB judges agreed to hear arguments of those calling for a rehearing; judges set an April 2 deadline for SoundExchange to respond.

Here comes FiOS1

Verizon on Friday will debut the company’s first owned-and-operated television channel, which will broadcast around the clock locally.

The station, FiOS1, derives its name from the phone company’s new fiber-optic cable TV service, which is licensed in most of the Washington region. The channel will offer local news, traffic and weather in addition to reports from “citizen video journalists,” according to a company press release. College and high school sports, as well as Major League Baseball games, will also be aired.

“As the telcos enter the multichannel video market, they are entering what is a mature market,” says Blair Levin of Stifel Nicolaus & Co. “There are significant consumer costs to switch [cable providers] so they have to not just be as good as someone else, they have to give a compelling reason to switch.”

Mr. Levin, who doesn’t own any shares, says the channel is a way for Verizon to differentiate itself, though it’s unlikely to be a deal clincher on its own.

Channel Surfing runs on Wednesdays. Call 202/636-3139 or e-mail [email protected]

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