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Bill would legalize extra-long music sets online for public radio

Waiting around to record songs on the radio is so 1980s.

Under the provisions of the Digital Milennium Copyright Act (DMCA) there are several restrictions on streaming radio that don’t exist for terrestrial broadcast. One of the most vexing for a lot of noncommerical stations is the limitation that an online station may not play more than three songs from the same artist, album or compilation in a three-hour period. Ostensibly this was included in order to prevent a would-be stream-ripper from obtaining a whole album of music simply by recording a station’s online broadcast.

The DMCA was passed back in 1998, before peer-to-peer file sharing had even been invented and online radio mostly meant listening to a lo-fi mono stream with a modem. So here in 2010 this restriction seems like an anachronism, if not a paranoid and absurd limit. This is especially true given that any resourceful downloader should have no problem finding a place to download any song or album online if he’s willing to fudge the law and explore the seedy underbelly of the internet. Waiting around for an online station to play the artist or album you want is the digital equivalent of sitting with your finger on the pause button waiting for your favorite song to play on the Top 40 station so you could capture it on a cassette tape. Nevermind the fact that playing whole album sides were once a mainstay of album-rock radio back when the music industry was raking in record profits.

Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin aims to put this little absurdity to rest with a bill she introduced called the Public Radio Music Enhancement Act of 2010. If passed the legislation would ease this restriction. However, I’m unable to turn up the full text of the bill. All I find is the following summary:

To amend title 17, United States Code, to enable a public broadcaster to obtain statutory licenses for the transmission of sound recordings online, unless a substantial portion of the sound recordings transmitted, on a weekly basis, are by the same featured recording artist or of the same musical work, and for other purposes.

Reading this, I’m guessing that the legislation would allow long sets of the same artist provided that that station didn’t primarily play the same audience all week long. I’m also a little concerned that the bill only references a “public broadcaster.” I hope this would be considered to include college and community stations, not just strictly public station. Given that there is no FCC or legal definition for a public station, as a distinct type of station from a noncommercial community or college station, I’d like to think all noncommercial music stations would be covered.

Predictably, NPR is pretty happy about this bill, as expressed in a press release. For her part, Rep. Baldwin says,

My legislation offers a narrow fix that has broad implications for the music-loving public in my home state of Wisconsin and across the country. …I look forward to working with NPR to further enhance its programming and better serve its listeners.

The bill first goes to committee, and then we’ll see if it ever emerges.


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