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No News from the Webcast Front (But Sonic Synergies Now Published)

Sonic Synergies: Music, Identity, Technology and Community (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series)

Yay - Sonic Synergies: Music, Identity, Technology and Community, a book collecting the best papers from the eponymous 2003 conference in Adelaide, is finally out (if apparently only in hardcover, for almost US$100)...

My chapter in the book deals at its core with the 2002 Webcasting wars in the United States - a protracted and complex conflict between the recording industry and various groupings of large, medium, and small Webcasters each pursuing their own agendas, which was not so much resolved as put on hold by the eventual intervention of a few members of Congress concerned about the deleterious effects of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA had put in place new approaches for digital royalty arbitration which posed serious problems for the long-term viability of small Webcasters (a fact which was bemoaned only rather fulsomely by the leaders of that market), and the ensuing negotiations finally hit the wall in 2002, after much toing and froing.

Now, on the one hand an article like this, published in 2008, could be seen to be of little more than historical value, of course (and 2002 does seem like ancient history today); at the same time, the last year or so has seen a renewal of hostilities in the Webcasting wars, and from a quick look at the Copyright Royalty Board section on Kurt Hanson's excellent Radio and Internet Newsletter - a key source of information for my research in 2002, and a great resource still -, we're pretty much back to where we were some six years ago. Plus ça change, and all that. (I'm afraid that also applies to RAIN's less than optimal layout, though - you do have to dig around at bit for older articles, but it's worth it.)

The wider point to take home from this is that over these years, there's been very little change in the attitudes of the organised copyright industries, led by the RIAA and MPAA: they're still content to defend and exploit their existing intellectual property with desperate aggression even if it stifles new markets, undermines synergistic profits from cross-platform promotion, and alienates and even criminalises audiences, all the while claiming to do so in the interests of artists who rarely if at all receive any royalties from the online distribution of their work. (A quick look, say, at Robert Fripp's running coverage of his continuing grief trying to retrieve royalties for music which was made available for paid download by EMI without his permission clearly documents the habitual deceit practiced in the royalty industries.)

Happily, alternative models are now becoming more readily available, and for some it's now increasingly possible to exist outside the DMCA/RIAA/MPAA royalty framework even while respecting artists' rights and achieving financial sustainability. But that's a topic for another day, and one I touch on to some extent in a new article in Media International Australia that I'll say more about once it's been properly released. As far as the Sonic Synergies piece went, by the way: happily it's been available on this site since the conference (and a related article was published in M/C Journal in 2003, too) - so for what it's worth, it's been part of the wider debate on Webcasting royalties for some years now, rather than providing only a historical look back in some degree of frustration at the severely flawed nature of U.S. royalty regulations.

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