Open Letter From Harvey Reid About Internet Radio (April 2002)

Came across this open letter while on Slashdot by guitarist Harvey Reid that holds up Internet radio as a vital new source of exposure for the independent music community. This community is presently shut out of the tight playlists controlled by the likes of Clear Channel Communications and it's 1600+ stations. This was posted last April, before the Copyright office levied its high fees on Net radio (fees that were half of what the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel's (CARP) recommended, but still far too much). Let's hope for all independent artists that free Internet radio grows in Canada and other countries unaffected by the Digital Millenium Act. Also, below is a signup link for independent artists wishing to circumvent the fees, thus giving Net radio stations free and open access to their music. -- editor

Those of us in the independent music community (musicians and listeners both) may need to wake up and take some action very soon to protect the existence of internet radio, no later than May 20, 2002. This is a real situation, and not an internet hoax. I have been following this story for months and the time is now.


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Almost a year ago, in the wake of the Napster mess, the major record labels started making moves to try to get the courts to classify internet radio as the same as digital file trading, and have now made a serious move that, if successful, will essentially stamp it out by applying hefty fees to broadcasters, PAYABLE TO RECORD COMPANIES, (in addition to ASCAP and BMI fees) and retroactive to 1998. The small internet broadcasters feel certain that they will be put out of business by these fees if it happens, since none of their operations are particularly profitable in the first place. The deadline is May 20, when The Copyright Office votes on whether to apply this fee, known as CARP. There are a lot of articles on the web right now about this, that detail it carefullly, and if you doubt me or want to learn some details, please go read them. (They have specific instructions of how you can send a letter, fax or e-mail to Congress),1285,44416,00.html,,3_1007651,00.html


Unlike a lot of complicated music business stuff, this is simple: a lot of us, specifically independent musicians and small record labels, view internet radio as desirable, and do not want it squashed. Unlike major labels, who have stated that they do not want their music played on internet radio, many of us want it. We need to do 2 vital things and do them quickly: 1) prevent the retroactive part of the fee from being levied, and 2) band together and form a coalition, and offer alternative music to internet radio in a way that they can afford. (I have some specific ideas not described here.) We independents have been squeezed out of most media and airplay, and the ability of anyone on earth with an internet connection to listen to music "broadcast" anywhere else on earth is a far better way to discover, propagate and enjoy new music than hoping you are in the signal range of a radio station that might have a DJ playing interesting music. If one DJ anywhere is playing good Bluegrass or Polkas on the internet, we can all listen to it.

As an independent musician who is being shoved ever further out of airplay for my recorded music, I look to internet radio as one of the best (and one of the few) remaining ways for my work to be heard. Most internet radio uses a streaming audio format similar to Real Audio, which is lower quaility than a cassette, and certainly not the "perfect digital copy" that the record labels claim to fear. The primary thing that people use internet radio for is to listen, and learn about artists they haven't heard.

It's my belief that if they hear me on internet radio, they will be more likely to buy my CD's and come to my concerts. If we contact the internet webcasters individually there will be little impact, but I am suggesting that if a large number of us who control our own work felt similarly and act as a group, it would be a newsworthy and possibly effective way to confront the situation. It could mean that internet radio, which has huge potential to spread music around the world, can have a reason to ONLY play truly independent music. The story of what we are doing might also help us get exposure and press, and call attention to the tens or even hundreds of thousands of us who make and sell our own music and don't want to live by rules dictated by major labels.

This story can also help listeners and webcasters learn about and access the vast source of musical content that exists outside the control of the major labels. If I just announce that my catalog of 15 albums I own is available, that is a small story, but if hundreds or thousands of us do it at once, it could be a big story, and maybe a media break we have all been waiting for. The battle between ASCAP and BMI in the 1940's had a huge effect on music of the day, and suddenly changed what people could hear. This is very likely one of those rare times in history when an entrenched system suddenly changes.

If the major labels don't want their content played on internet radio, fine, let them take their ball and go home,and let The People play and listen what they want on the internet, especially artists who want to be played there. As I see it, this is quite different from the Napster situation. I recommend that individuals, small labels, and organizations that represent them (such as IBMA and Folk Alliance) look into this seriously, perhaps take a leadership role in this matter, and even communicate with other established groups to build an even more united front. We can join as a common voice to offer our recorded works to webcasters be played on the internet without them fearing they will be sued or charged outrageous fees. I am sure that the music industry has no idea how many independent artists and labels are out there, and how much interesting music might be available to broadcasters and to the listeners if the major labels refuse access to their catalogs. It would be an exciting and healthy thing actually if all of a sudden you HAD to play real independent music on the web.


* Learn all we can about what is going on, and discuss this with each other, and figure out who is going to do what. People with leadership ability and resources need to step forward, and it won't be that much work, and it does not look like a long, drawn out battle. It even looks like it could be quick and simple and decisive. (Let's hope.) This is finally an issue that hits close to home and that you can easily explain to your mom.* Put together e-mail lists of our friends, colleagues and fans, and circulate the news about what is going on. The same media conglomerates that control the record labels control the radio and news, and it's not a coincidence that there has been so little press about this.

* Prepare and circulate a petition (probably by e-mail, due to anthrax fears) to encourage our lawmakers either not to levy the fee, or at least to not apply the retroactive part. (See below)* Establish a dialog immediately with internet broadcasters, and let them know that there are a lot of us who are willing to be reasonable with them, and let them know there may be something for them to play on May 21. We can't wait until then to start discussions.

* Prepare a web page sign-up form where those of us who own a body of music can stand up and be counted and indicate our willingness to join in a negotiation with internet radio groups, so they can know that they might have a significant body of music to choose from in their broadcasts.

* If you own some recorded music, think hard about whether you want to join the coalition, and even harder about whether you want the major labels to even be able to impose their CARP fees, as long as they are not retroactive. If the majors get out of the game, we independents can have the internet radio to ourselves, and we can make an end run around them, and I smile when I contemplate this scenario. There is a huge amount of independent stuff out there, and contrary to some people's belief, it is not of inferior quality to major label stuff. (We might have to make some kind of a list of examples of what artists are out there making good music as an example to those who doubt.)

* Prepare some kind of an agreement (perhaps someone could put a lawyer on this) between independent artists/labels and internet radio. This will be tricky, and both sides will have to meet certain criteria that are acceptable to the other. The small labels want to make sure the broadcasters are really acting like a radio station, and the webcasters will need to make sure the artists and small labels do indeed control the content they claim they do, and are willing to grant certain uses of it.

* Look into what happened to the money the record labels scammed the last time they pulled this same thing with Home Taping. There has been a small tax on blank media for 10 years now, ever since the record labels complained so loud in the 1980's that home taping was ruining their business. It would not surprise me to learn that that money was not properly accounted for or distributed. I am a small label, and I have never received a dime or heard of anyone who did. * Alert the media and writers/journalists, since this is a good story, and they need to start following it right away and helping it along before the May 20 deadline.

Chordally yours,

Harvey Reid
Independent Recording Artist Since 1982

Independent Music Owners in Favor of Internet Radio - No CARP fee sign up sheet

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