by Luke Baumgarten & r & & r & Little Leverage
The streaming audio page on Spokane Public Radio's Website (kpbx.org/listen.htm) carries an impassioned plea to its listeners. Internet radio is in trouble, as we all know, and the best hope for small, local webcasters like KPBX is the Internet Radio Equality Act (IREA), which we discussed a couple weeks ago. "The ... Act is in both the Senate and the House," the statement reads, "and small netcasters throughout the country hope Internet radio listeners call their representatives and make their voices heard."
The act is important for small webcasters like KPBX and KYRS because, frankly, it's their only bargaining chip. Record labels have the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) decision that allows them to charge astronomical, industry-ending rates. Large webcasters (Yahoo, Pandora) have an ad hoc lobby called Digital Media Association (DiMA) protecting their interests. All the small webcasters have -- because, in most cases, they lack much of a budget -- is the threat of the webcaster-friendly IREA taking effect and eroding the profit potential gained in the CRB decision.
IREA's wording is strong, completely overturning the CRB decision, so that's not such a bad place to be. Or, at least, it wasn't a bad place until Monday. That's when wired.com reported that the IREA is stalled in Congress. By suggesting that the thing might come to a vote in September if negotiations don't work, legislators seem to want to see if the situation can come to a happy conclusion by itself. It won't. Not having the IREA looming over the industry erodes the bargaining position of even the big webcasters and totally washes the little guys out to sea.
There's frighteningly little that local webcasters can do. KPBX is looking to its higher-ups at NPR. KYRS is adopting a wait-and-see strategy, its program director, Lupito Flores, told me. What else can they do, really? The station doesn't pay its DJs; it certainly can't pay to retain legal council. Small, shoestring webcasters need Congress to act on their behalf and Congress is being entirely too laissez-faire.
If you didn't call your legislators before, you seriously need to do so now.