The New York Times The New York Times Education October 20, 2002  

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Fees Forcing College Radio Stations to Scale Back Webcasts


Playing alternative rock and urban folk music, the student-run radio station at the University of Wisconsin was broadcasting to fans from the far corners of the campus to the far corners of the earth.

Although the station, WSUM, did not have a radio signal that went much beyond Madison, Wis., Internet broadcasting made it possible for the station to have listeners in the South Pacific.

But that is over now.

WSUM is one of about 70 college radio stations to pull the plug on Internet broadcasting in the last several months because of new copyright fees and reporting regulations required by the Library of Congress.

"It just wasn't worth it," said Dave Black, WSUM's general manager and adviser. "Where are we supposed to get this money from?"

Among the other places where stations have shut down or scaled back their Internet broadcasts are the University of California at Los Angeles, New York University, Houston Community College, Brandeis University and Oregon State.

Colleges are now required to pay 2 cents for every 100 Internet listeners they have per song, with a minimum fee of $500 annually. (The station's Web sites can record data on the number of listeners.) This year, stations are also expected to pay fees retroactive to 1998, when the law was first approved. That means many schools will be expected to pay $2,500 to the copyright office tomorrow, when the payment is due.

"For a lot of these stations, it could be devastating," said Will Robedee, vice president of Collegiate Broadcasters Inc. "There are constantly calls from stations deciding whether or not to continue their Webcast."

The fees are part of an agreement between the copyright office and the Recording Industry Association of America, which says that the fees are needed to compensate musicians for their work. By contrast, radio stations that use the airwaves must pay a flat fee of about $600 a year to organizations that represent songwriters.

"Webcasters have built businesses on the backs of performers and record companies," said Amanda Collins, a spokeswoman for the recording industry. "They're paying for everything else except for the key element — the music."

Music industry officials tried to strike a last-minute deal to create flat fees for college stations, but the legislation stalled in the Senate.

About 500 college radio stations broadcast programs over the Internet, usually in addition to their regular broadcasts, but many have moved to use the Internet exclusively as it has grown more difficult to get space on the airwaves.

New regulations also require stations to keep detailed records of playlists and to submit records electronically. For stations that specialize in obscure or decades-old music, the system seems daunting. Most student disc jockeys choose songs on a whim, jotting down the information as they go along.

The fees combined with the equipment needed to meet new reporting requirements could amount to one-quarter of a station's annual budget, radio station managers said. Stations that sell advertising would be required to pay even higher fees.

The new requirements were announced in June, but many stations did not know about them until recent weeks. Some, such as California State University at Long Beach, are still unsure about the requirements and how they will affect their budget.

"This is keeping us kind of meek and quiet," said John Trapper, the manager of the California State station, which has about 50 listeners at a time on the Internet. "We don't want to get too many listeners or we won't be able to afford to keep them."

Technology Briefing | Internet: House Passes Bill On Net Radio  (October 8, 2002) 

Radio Stations Appeal Ruling on Web Fees  (July 17, 2002) 

TECHNOLOGY; Internet Radio Criticizes Rate On Royalties  (June 21, 2002)  $

Panel's Ruling on Royalties Is Setback for Web Radio Services  (February 21, 2002)  $

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