Web royalty fees could skyrocket

Kiera Manion-Fischer

WKSU, Black Squirrel discuss the possible impact of the panel’s ruling

WKSU-FM 89.7 and Black Squirrel Radio both broadcast online, but may be stuck with hefty bills thanks to proposed changes in royalties for Internet radio.

On March 2, the Copyright Royalty Board, a three-judge panel appointed by Congress, approved drastic changes to Web radio royalty rates.

Bob Burford, marketing coordinator for WKSU, said that because of the great public outcry against the ruling, the rates have not yet gone into effect, although they were supposed to July 15.

Under the terms of the ruling, all Internet radio broadcasters, or Webcasters, may now be charged on a per-song, per-listener basis, rather than paying a percentage of their revenue.

The proposed rates also include a $500 minimum fee per live stream and stations will be charged retroactively from 2006.

Negotiations are ongoing between SoundExchange, a company that collects royalties, and Webcasters’ representatives.

“The proposed change would represent a dramatic increase in royalty rates for Internet broadcasting,” he said. “They’d double in a couple of years and double again.”

WKSU has three Web streams that would be affected by the proposed changes: its live radio stream, classical music stream and Folkalley.com, its 24 hour folk music stream.

Under the terms of the ruling, all Web radio stations are being treated the same – whether commercial, non-commercial, large or small.

“We are advocating that they realize that public broadcasting is a non-profit institution,” Burford said.

Chris Boros, Internet radio service manager at WKSU, is not overly concerned.

“We have a university behind us and a radio station behind us,” he said. “What I’m worried about is the little guys. They’re in big trouble.”

Burford said if the rates were to go into effect, many Internet broadcasters would go out of business.

“In the long haul, we would have to look at whether those rates are sustainable,” he said.

Rory Geraghty, general manager of Black Squirrel Radio for Fall 2007, thinks there will be some kind of compromise for college radio stations.

“From a Black Squirrel Radio perspective, I don’t think we have much to worry about,” he said. “What we do isn’t for profit – it’s educational.”

He’s not anticipating having to pay more than $500 a year.

Chuck Poulton, senior LAN administrator for WKSU, said one problem is generating reports on the number of listeners at a given time.

“There’s a lot of questions as to how we would gather that data,” he said.

Poulton hopes an agreement with reasonable rates can be worked out that is also fair to the artists.

“We definitely want the artists to get their due,” Poulton said.

Contact principal reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at [email protected].