Royalty rates settled for college internet radio

College stations can now pay $100 yearly and forgo reporting playlists.

Campus-based internet radio broadcasters have an established royalty rate after an agreement was reached with SoundExchange, a nonprofit organization created to collect and dole out music royalties to record labels.

The July 31 agreement with College Broadcasters Inc. was one of three royalty rate negotiations settled after months of back-and-forth negotiations. SoundExchange also settled royalty rates with the National Religious Broadcasters Music License Committee and SIRIUS-XM. The agreement is good through 2015.

College webcasters will pay $500 per year if they don’t exceed 159,140 listener hours. If that limit is exceeded–unlikely among college stations with small audiences–the station will have to pay the higher commercial rate.

SoundExchange also settled college webcasters’ concerns about reporting which music is played and how many times it is aired. The new deal states that if a webcaster pays $100 at the beginning of the year, no reporting is necessary.

Colin Rushing, an attorney for SoundExchange who negotiated the deals with College Broadcasters and the other organizations and companies, said the frequent staff turnovers on campus-based stations–especially smaller ones–made it difficult to accurately report what music was being played and how copyright royalty fees should be paid out.

“Reporting is a real problem for educational institutions,” Rushing said, adding that the royalty rate agreement is available for any college broadcaster who wants to opt in. “They don’t have the same institutional memory. … They face special challenges.”

While many college radio stations don’t keep reliable records of what songs they’ve played over a week, month, or year, some stations, such as the University of Vermont’s WRUV-FM, keep meticulous reports on hand.

The station, which streams its broadcasts online, uses a web-based program called RadioActivity, which reports, logs, and tracks radio station playlists. Disc jockeys at WRUV have a username and password, and the artist, record label, genre, and other information is logged into the program for every song that is played during each DJ’s two-hour shift, said station manager McCrae Hathaway, a junior at the University of Vermont.

“We have a pretty accurate way of knowing when and what songs are played,” said Hathaway, who also DJs for WRUV.

Staff turnover isn’t constant at Vermont, Hathaway said, adding that most DJs train for the position as freshmen and work for the station until they graduate four years later.

“I found they are pretty loyal to the station once they become involved,” he said. “They stick around.”

In March 2007, a ruling by the federal Copyright Royalty Board dramatically raised the rates that internet radio stations must pay artists and recording labels–leading many online radio stations to warn that the new rates would put them out of business by eating up as much as 70 percent of revenue.

College Broadcasters officials did not return a reporter’s queries as of press time, but an Aug. 1 blog post on the organization’s web site said the SoundExchange deal “puts our members in a much better position in the future,” because the royalty rate arrangement sets a baseline for negotiations after the current deal expires in six years.

Agreeing to webcaster rates, Rushing said, was a landmark step in finalizing royalty fees, but details of the deal could be tweaked in future agreements.

“To a large extent, this is a bit of an experiment,” he said.

Earlier this year, SoundExchange struck new online royalty agreements with the National Association of Broadcasters and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Traditional AM and FM broadcasters are exempt from copyright royalty rates for over-the-air radio play, because that airplay is thought to provide free promotion for artists and labels. But the broadcasters are subject to the new rates for any songs streamed over radio station web sites.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.



College Broadcasters Inc.

University of Vermont’s WRUV-FM

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