Wednesday, March 07, 2007


UPDATE: Congress is likely to sit on its hands. Why did we elect these dorks?

I don't normally like to use this page for polemical essays, but I think this matter is something that concerns anyone who listens to and relies on internet radio. The Copyright Royalty Board has announced its plan to raise internet royalty rates--charging internet broadcasters on a per-song, per-listener basis. And these charges will be retroactive through the beginning of last year. This will effectively shut down all programs like RADIOLA! that operate on a tiny (or nonexistent) budget.

What is astonishing--and to my mind unjust--is that 80-year-old recordings should be subject to copyright control at all. The even more appalling fact is that all sound recordings will be kept from the Public Domain until the year 2067. Certainly no artists who recorded in the 1910s and 1920s--and very few who recorded in the 1930s--are in any position to enjoy their royalty payments. The main result of this quirk of the law is to actively suppress the music that we love.

This music clearly belongs in the Public Domain. It is not only a major part of our cultural heritage, it should enrich and inform new music as it emerges. If it utterly disappears, music will wither and become even more banal than it is now. Imagine putting Beethoven or Schubert back under copyright. What would that serve? Similarly, what purpose does it serve (besides enriching the vampires in the moribund music industry) to suppress the music of 80 years ago--music that is vital to our national culture?

I have no problem with living performers and composers demanding some measure of compensation. Yet it has been my experience that many artists are happy just to have their music promoted so they can sell recordings and get people out to their concert venues. Such avenues of exposure would be closed to the less well known and new performers as the self-referential dreck offered on radios throughout the land would prevail.

I've loved the music of the 1920s and 1930s since I was a child, once I was lucky enough to discover its existence. Everyone thought I was weird for loving it, but I knew it was best for me. It wasn't a matter of nostalgia, or of longing for some other time. The music was simply excellent, and better than anything else available to me.

I have to assume that a certain percentage of people are similarly moved, or would be if they had access to these recordings. Rather than being sequestered in a vault somewhere, or on the dusty shelves of a few record collectors, they should be freely broadcast so that they find their audience. And I have a suspicion that their audience would be immense if they were widely available. They shimmer with wit and levity, brim with deep joy, and beat with the pulse of life. And charging admission to them enriches no one except those who would keep them quiet so they can push today's mediocre crud as the real deal.

This may be a lost cause, but those are always the ones worth fighting for. Write your representative in Congress to change this wretched state of affairs, and urge for the repeal of the horrid DMCA itself. There are now so many important matters before Congress (such as the war and civil liberties) that Internet Radio seems minor in comparison. Nonetheless, it is important, personally, to millions--and the death of independent online music stations would make our already bleak lives that much more dreary.

Yes, RADIOLA! will go on--as a radio program. Those who want to hear it will have to stream WHCL on Friday nights (Hamilton College can afford the absurdly high fees) or move to the Utica, NY area and try to pick up the 320 watt station on their FM radios. (That's assuming there's no sporting event and the station is even on the air, which it frequently isn't.) And I'll try to hang in there on Live365 as long as possible. But when the RIAA types start pounding on my door, I'm not going into hock over this--not that I have anything worth pawning.


saffron said...

OH man, that is such a drag!! Unless I'm in my car, I only listen to radio on line. I'm in southern california and radio completely sucks out here!! While I do have an extensive record collection, there's so much more out there. And how sad if people can't hear what the old music has to offer. I will write to my rep. I only hope I can articulate it properly.

tuffemme said...

This is terrible! Radiola is my favorite internet radio show and I listen to it often on Live365. I wrote to my Congresspeople about it, but like you, I don't hold out much hope. Please let me know if there's anything else we can do.