By Martin Bosworth
Crossposted at OpenLeft.
Tomorrow marks a depressing day for fans of Internet radio stations and alternative newsmagazines of any political stripe. Corporate interests have successfully shepherded through bad business plans designed to choke off independent voices using the power of the purse.
First, July 15 marks the day that Internet radio broadcasters have to start paying massive new royalty fees to stream songs, or face legal action from the recording industry’s royalty collections arm, SoundExchange. Although there have been some positive negotiations between the recording industry and Webcasters, the sword of Damocles is hanging over anyone who’s currently broadcasting a playlist or content over the Internet–either pay the royalties and go broke fast, don’t pay and risk being arrested for piracy, or shut down.
A similar problem is happening to small newsmagazines and alternative journals ranging from The Nation to National Review. The US Postal Service just adopted a new series of postal rate hikes that will shift shipping costs squarely on small journals, leaving big corporate weeklies and monthlies untouched. The editors of many of these magazines–which are as far apart politically as you can imagine–wrote a joint letter protesting the rate increases and the incredible speed with which they were implemented, without oversight or discussion.
These are not coincidental developments. In both cases, the regulating authorities (The Copyright Royalty Board and the USPS) overturned precedent and enforced new plans that were handwritten by industry (The RIAA and Time Warner) to favor the largest players in the game. Time Warner and the RIAA will easily be able to handle these rate increases, but smaller outlets won’t. That’s the agenda–a deliberate shutting down of alternative viewpoints in order to drive consumers into the arms of corporate-backed media outlets.
This is not a case of ideas triumphing in the free market–this is a deliberate end-run around competition, buying off the government to ensure we only read and listen to approved media materials. And in both cases, grassroots action and media attention have slowed down the process, leading to the introduction of legislation to reverse these decisions. But the public outcry needs to continue to get these decisions reversed. Even the threat of legislation is often enough to get bad actors in the marketplace to change their ways…if you don’t believe me, ask the folks at Save The Internet!
To find out what you can do to help overturn the Internet radio royalty hikes, visit SaveNetRadio.com.
ADDENDUM: I should be more clear in pointing out that the immediate threat of shutdown for Internet stations isn’t happening at the moment, thanks to extensive negotiating and grassroots mobilizing. But the rates CAN be enforced, depending on what SoundExchange feels is the outcome of the next round of talks. So the threat isn’t gone, just slowed down again…and that’s what we need to keep working on.