Bill may give webcasters royalty rate reprieve

Webcasters could potentially get a break from what they claim are overly burdensome copyright fees if a new bill introduced into Congress late Thursday is approved.

The bill, introduced by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, aims to give webcasters a six month reprieve from online royalty rates set by Librarian of Congress last June.

The rates have been an ongoing source of contention between radio webcasters and the powerful labels that own music copyrights. While the labels have sought higher royalty rates for content streamed over the Web, the online radio stations argue that the government-mandated fees are exorbitantly high and threaten to push most webcasters off the air.

Dozens of radio webcasters have banded together to appeal the rates set by the Librarian of Congress, which are due to take effect on Oct. 20. Sensenbrenner's bill seeks to give the webcasters a temporary reprieve from the fees beginning Oct. 20, presumably to allow the appeals case to wrap up before the rates take effect.

Jonathan Potter, executive director of the Digital Media Association (DiMA), said in a statement Friday that webcasters were pleased with the bill.

"The Internet radio industry deeply appreciates Chairman James Sensenbrenner's commitment to fairness and to letting the court's appeals process reach its completion before thousands of webcasting services would be forced to go out of business later next month due to burdensome royalty fees imposed upon them from the Library of Congress," Potter said.

However, a spokeswoman for the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA), which represents the labels, said that the group was surprised with the development "considering how productive our discussion with the webcasters have been."