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The RIAA, The Library of Congress and the Web Pirates

by The Hand Of The Father, Alejandro Escovedo (Texas Music Group)

Last week, the record company cartel for the first time gained a fee from American radio stations. That, not the specific rate, marks the real breakthrough of last week’s ruling by the Library of Congress that established fees for webcasting recorded music. RIAA mouthpiece Cary Sherman shrieked that “artists and record companies will subsidize the webcasting businesses of multibillion-dollar companies like Yahoo!, RealNetwroks and Viacom.”

The LoC actually played into the hands of both the RIAA’s five member label cartel and the big webcast powers. It did this by using as its royalty model the agreement struck between Yahoo! and the RIAA. This meant rejecting a rate based on percentage of webcasts, like that which songwriters and music publishers get from both broadcasters and webcasters. The per-song standard ensured an amount of money owed far beyond what any small webcaster can pay. Since the rates are retroactive to 1998, some web stations owe several hundred thousand dollars each, payable in October. Smaller webcasters like SomaFM, French ambient station BlueMars, and Tag’s Trance Trip folded before the ink dried on the decision.

Some say the RIAA’s committed suicide, since little webcasters expose so many kinds of records and targeted core audiences. But this misses the real point which, as Andrew Orlowski of points out, is that the RIAA “want complete control.” The only way that the RIAA cartel can achieve such control is through alliances with large webcasters–the kind who can afford the new rates. None of the big webcasting entities screamed loudly. The typical comment, from Alex Alben, of RealNetworks, was “It’s a step in the right direction.” Live365, the largest Internet broadcaster with 8.4 million Arbitron-certified broadcast hours a month, has had a plan, based on the projected rate, since February to pay $1.5 million in fees plus a monthly charge of $200,000. The new plan, which cuts the rate per song from 0.14 cents a song to .007 cents, cuts those sums in half.

In contrast, Live365 points out that many of the 40,000 webasters who use its service, some paying as little as $6.95 a month to do their shows, would now face at least a $500 license fee and will have to subsidize Live365’s record royalties.

Just as broadcast “deregulation” virtually wiped out small radio stations, the LoC’s new rates ensure that webcast survivors will belong to very wealthy companies who can afford them. Clearly, that’s now government policy, summed up by the LoC’s rationalization: “…many Webcasters are currently generating very little revenue, [so] a percentage-of-revenue rate would require copyright owners to allow extensive use of their property with little or no compensation.” As I’ve pointed out many times, protecting “copyright owners” means protecting big business, not artists. That the Librarian of Congress views songs solely as property, discarding their status as culture, is even more appalling.

As the stranglehold of big broadcasters became too much to endure in the ’80s and ’90s, one result was the rise of a pirate (so-called micropower) radio movement. Pirate radio became so pervasive that the FCC tried to create micropower licenses; big broadcasting stopped that in its tracks by corralling a batch of its pet legislators to object.

Some pirates became Webcasters. They (and many others) will likely become “pirates” again rather than pay rates set to destroy them. If the FCC couldn’t police such stations when they needed relatively large transmitters, how is the government going to catch Web “pirates”?

All Web pirates will be aware that it was the cartel labels who drove them out of legitimacy. This means an opportunity to expose more of the RIAA’s music will be turned into one more salad of snarling hatred. You don’t even have to hope the RIAA chokes on it. Plummeting sales figures show it already is.

(Shout out to Little Richard for the title.)


(what’s playing in my office)

1. Try Again, Mike Ireland and Holler (Ashmont)

2. Human Being Lawnmower: The Baddest & Maddest of the MC5 (Total Energy)

3. 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin (ATO)

4. The Eminem Show, Eminem (Interscope)

5. Watermelon, Chicken and Gritz, Nappy Roots (Atlantic)

6. Sweet Talk and Good Lies, Heather Myles (Rounder)

7. Masquerade, Wyclef Jean (Columbia)

8. Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be, Vol. 5 & 6: Early American Rural Music, Classic Recordings of the 1920s and 30s (Yazoo)–Each has one of the newly discovered Blind Joe Reynolds tracks. Not putting them together’s a gouge but at least the rest of each set lives up to the standard. Each disc features Skip James and Charley Patton. Five has the Weems String Band’s original “Greenback Dollar” and Frank Blevins’ “I’ve Got No Honey Baby Now.” Six contains Uncle Dave Macon and “God Didn’t Make Me No Monkey Man” by Eli Framer.

9. Living in a New World, Willie King and the Liberators (Rooster Blues)

10. Revolucion: The Chicano’s Spirit, a selection of Chicano grooves from the early 70s (Follow Me, Fr.)

11. By the Hand of the Father, Alejandro Escovedo (Texas Music Group)

12. The Shed Session, Bhundu Boys (Sadza, Ger.) Two discs of early ’80s Zimbabwean guitar band music that rocks harder and easier than any of the “world music” that became of it.

13. Tonight at Johnny’s Speakeasy, Jo Serrapere & the Willie Dunns (Detroit Radio Co.)

14. Happy Town, Tim Krekel

15. Brendan Behan Sings Irish Folksongs and Ballads: Songs, Anecdotes, Jokes, Diversions, Contradictions, Seamlessly Strung Together (Outlet, UK)

Dave Marsh coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. He can be reached at:

Dave Marsh’s Previous DeskScan Top 10 Lists:

June 17, 2002

June 12, 2002

June 4, 2002

May 27, 2002

May 20, 2002

May 14, 2002

May 6, 2002

April 30, 2002

April 22, 2002

April 15, 2002

April 9, 2002

April 2, 2002

March 25, 2002

March 18, 2002

March 11, 2002


Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: Dave blogs at

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