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House Judiciary considers new Webcaster Settlement Act; Webcaster petition Conyers for parity

Posted on: 05/13/2009

The House Judiciary Committee today discussed the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 (H. R. 2344). The new bill was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and will reportedly be introduced in the Senate by Ron Wyden (D-OR). The new bill modifies the existing Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, extending the deadline for which webcasters and SoundExchange must agree to a royalty rate to 30 days after the enactment of the new bill.

The original bill, the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, set a deadline of February 15, 2009. However, SoundExchange was not able to reach deals with all webcasters by that date, including “pureplay” webcasters, small commercial webcasters, and religious broadcasters. The new bill would give webcasters and SoundExchange more time to hammer out a deal.

Also discussed in today’s meeting of the House Judiciary Committee was the Performance Rights Act (H.R. 848), which was altered by a “Manager’s Amendment” to lower the annual fees for small radio broadcasters.

In related news, over 300 webcasters have signed a petition to Chairman Conyers, asking him to extend the newly-adopted Performance Rights Act manager’s amendment to small webcasters. The letter points out the discrepancy between proposed royalty fees to broadcast radio stations and those charged to Internet radio webcaster. Under Conyers’ amendment, broadcasters making less than $1.25 million annually would pay $5,000 annually in royalties. By comparison, the webcasters’ letter estimates, webcasters earning $1.25 million would pay $150,000 in royalties. Similarly, broadcasters earning less than $100,000 would pay $500, while webcasters earning the same amount would pay pay $10,000 in royalties.

The letter asks, “Should Congress allow small broadcasters to pay reasonable royalties but require small Internet radio webcasters to pay royalties that are 20, 30 and 40 times higher? …Please amend the Performance Rights Act to extend small broadcaster protections to small webcasters. Small webcasters are the smallest of small, but our programming is the most innovative and our playlists the most diverse.”

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