Time for Internet Pirate Radio?

Personally I listen to hardly any Internet radio, or much radio at all for that matter except when I’m driving; and being a New Yorker that’s almost never. However people who do listen to the radio seem incensed over a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board to dramatically increase fees Internet radio station pay for broadcasting music. Some are even calling it a death sentence. I’m not so pessimistic, and here’s why.

Who Pays Who, Really?

Radio play is far more valuable to the artists and labels played than the radio stations playing them. There is far more music available than there is time to play it. When broadcast radio first came along, about a century ago and the musicians of the day negotiated with the stations of the day, radio suggested that airtime was so valuable that the music industry should pay the raiot stations for broadcasting their stuff.

Guess what? They were right, as the continuing payola scandals prove. Music labels can and do pay radio stations to play their songs. If major label RIAA members don’t want to pay-to-play on Internet radio someone else will; or at the very least independent artists will make their material available to Internet radio at no cost. If the RIAA is so stupid they’ll price their artists out of Internet radio (and they may well be exactly that stupid) others will replace them.

Pirate Radio

The United States and the United Kingdom and probably other countries have a long tradition of pirate radio. I’m not talking about microtransmitters in some kid’s attic. I’m talking about serious, commercial supported radio station broadcasting from just offshore. In the United States, Wolfman Jack became famous broadcasting from Mexico with a signal that could reach half the United States. In the U.K. ships anchored offshore played frequency hopping games as the BBC tried to jam them.

Guess what? In 2007 offshoring your broadcast is about a thousand times easier. There’s no reason anyone can’t set up their Internet radio facilities in a friendlier jurisdiction, be it Sweden or Sealand or Canada and pay zero royalties to anyone. Even if the RIAA comes after you there, pack up your software and head off to the next host and country. Bits move faster than lawyers.

The RIAA’s Internet radio purge is a temporary glitch, nothing more. Uncensored, free Internet radio is here to stay. The most the RIAA can hope to do is inconvenience a few American hobbyists for a few weeks before they find better solutions. The most they will do is transfer airtime from their artists to independents. Heck, if that means we don’t have to endure quite so many headlines about Britney shaving her head, I can only applaud. Go RIAA Go! We could never destroy you as fast as you’re destroying yourself.

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