Fees threaten WRGW

GW’s online radio station, WRGW, could stop playing music this fall if Congress approves a fee set in previous copyright legislation.

The new fees, which were announced in June, could charge stations thousands of dollars in royalties retroactive to 1998, the year the Digital Millennium Act took effect.

James Billington, the librarian of Congress, set the fees this summer after years of negotiations with the U.S. Copyright Office.

According to an Aug. 16 Chronicle of Higher Education report, dozens of college and non-commercial stations around the country have already stopped broadcasting online in anticipation of fee approval this fall.

“This is a huge hurt for college stations around the country,” said Brett Kaplan, WRGW’s general manager. He said the costs associated with the new fee would be “impossible” for the station to calculate.

WRGW, which broadcasts exclusively online, is still operating, though Kaplan said that could change if the fees set in June are enforced in the coming months.

The Digital Media Act, which included a provision requiring non-commercial webcasters to pay royalties to the record industry, announced the fee about four years ago. The fee is now being finalized in the House of Representatives and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Acting Director of Media Relations Bob Ludwig said if costs were too great, music webcasting on WRGW could cease, but other programming such as talk radio and sports casting could continue.

“I think it would be a matter of evaluating internet broadcasting,” he said. “That particular portion of WRGW might stop, but it wouldn’t effect their ability to do regular programming.”

The proposed fee would charge all non-commercial radio stations, including colleges, that broadcast online seven-hundredths of a cent per song, per listener. Kaplan said the fees may not sound like much, but quickly add up to a lot of money for a small station.

The income from the fees would be split between the record label and the artist, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives in July may exempt small stations and colleges from paying the royalties until further notice. The Senate Judiciary Committee also plans to hold a hearing on webcasting, and at least one group of college radio stations is bringing suit in U.S. Appeals Court to minimize fees for smaller stations.

Kaplan said WRGW will wait for the results of these lawsuits and hearings before considering shutting down.

“There are a lot of proposals in court, but we’re going to see how it plays out,” Kaplan said. “We’re not joining any lawsuits yet, but if a new standard is set then we’ll abide by that standard.”

Ludwig and Vice President for Communications Mike Freedman currently advise and oversee WRGW. Ludwig said the station will continue to operate until the government makes a decision regarding the royalties.

“We’re sitting tight,” Ludwig said. “The U.S. Copyright Office has a proposed fee structure that was never approved. Whatever fees they set, we’ll comply. Until that happens, we can’t make any decisions.”

Kaplan said the actual cost for WRGW will be time-consuming to determine.

“That’s an ugly number to calculate,” he said. “When and if we’re forced to do it, we will.”

He said any additional funds the radio station may need to continue operating with the addition of webcast royalties will not come from the Student Association, because he said students should not have to pay fees to the Recording Industry Association of America.

Ludwig said GW is in contact with the U.S. Copyright Office and will calculate what it would cost for WRGW to continue to operate once final fees are announced.

Gabriel Movsesyan, general manager of New York University’s student radio station, WNYU, said the station decided to shut down its webcasts in April after learning of the royalty proposals. Unlike WRGW, WNYU transmits an AM radio signal, allowing the station to continue with on-air
broadcasts.

Movsesyan said a yearly “flat rate” would make more sense than asking small radio stations to pay fees to the record industry for each listener of each song they webcast.

“Instead of paying royalties, a small flat rate would be preferable of course,” he said. “The best option would be for the (RIAA) to get their meddling hands out of this and recognize internet radio as a valuable promotional tool, and not as another source of potential revenue.”

Like WRGW, WNYU says the most burdensome aspect of Billington’s proposal is one that requires small stations to provide the Copyright Office extensive broadcast data, including the date and time of each transmission, the International Standard Recording Code and the number of listeners online at the time each song played.

“This is the definitive reason most stations have or will be removing their Web stream,” Movsesyan said. “The play-list tracking requirements are simply tyrannical. (Collecting listener information) will alienate many existing and potential listeners as well.”

Kaplan said WRGW would also have difficulty calculating such data.

“Once you’re dealing with Congress and laws, who knows how long it will play out,” Kaplan said. “The whole point of all this is to make things so impossible that it forces all net broadcasting to cease.”

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