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New copyright regulations restrict WMFO’s programming

Published: Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Updated: Sunday, October 31, 2010 23:10

wmfo

Katja Torres / Tufts Daily

WMFO DJ Sawyer Bernath works inside the station’s studio. The radio station has to comply with stricter federal rules for its broadcasting procedure.


WMFO Tufts Freeform Radio this semester has come under compliance with a new, more stringent set of federal regulations that make its broadcasting procedures more complicated and limited than ever before.

The regulations, which apply to digital streaming of sound recordings, prohibit webcasted radio DJs from announcing song titles in advance of when they will play and broadcasting more than three songs from the same album or four songs from the same artist in a three-hour period. They also prohibit webcasts of music-based radio shows from remaining online for longer than two weeks and from being available for download.

Many commercial digitally streaming radio stations have reached separate agreements with copyright holders for different terms, and it remains within the power of college and non-profit broadcasters to do the same.

Beyond these new rules, WMFO must now pay an annual fee of $500 to SoundExchange, a non-profit organization that distributes royalties to the artists, recording labels and owners of sound recording copyrights. This is in addition to its existing fees paid to two companies that distribute royalties.

The new rules are provisions of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) according to Belinda Rawlins, executive director of the Transmission Project, who helped WMFO with the process of coming into compliance with the rules.

The lag time between the act's passage and its full implementation, Rawlins said, was due to intensive negotiations between the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, working on behalf of all public and non-commercial radio stations, and SoundExchange. The two bodies agreed last year on the annual rate and the terms under which that rate would be paid to SoundExchange.

The DMCA seeks to clarify and protect digital sound recording rights, Rawlins said. By prohibiting DJs from announcing the titles of songs before they are broadcast, Rawlins said regulators hope to thwart the efforts of those seeking to record songs from live shows.

"The requirement of no more pre-announcing songs is so that you won't know the next song is going to be a Radiohead song and then record a perfect version of that song," she said.

WMFO general manager Andy Sayler, a senior, said WMFO responded to the new regulations immediately after their passage.

"We've been spending the last six months to a year getting into compliance and just made the last changes that brought us into compliance this semester," Sayler said.

The process of coming into compliance, Sayler said, has not been easy.

"It's definitely been a burden," Sayler said. "It's been manageable. I would say it's been a series of annoyances."

Both Rawlins and Sayler felt that the new regulations miss the mark on the main sources of music theft, arguing that most digital pirates do not steal music from radio broadcasts or online webcasts.

Rawlins said people who steal music are disinclined from recording webcasts because those streams are already compressed enough that the audio quality is relatively low.

Sayler expressed doubts that students listen to college radio stations waiting for a DJ to announce a song so they could record it.

"There are so many easier ways to steal music," Sayler said.

Restricting radio stations' ability to stream shows online decreases listener's access to those streams and so decreases the potential for abuse, Rawlins said.

Jafar Haidar, who co-hosts two back-to-back Tuesday night shows on WMFO as DJ "J Haad," believes the webcasting restrictions will hurt his listeners' ability to enjoy the show.

"It's pretty unfortunate, in my opinion," Haidar, a junior, said. 

Haidar said that having webcasts available for only two weeks at a time presents an overly-limited sample size of his shows. The two-week limit, he said, restricted his listener's ability to share the show with their friends.

"They'll talk about it with their friends and always there will be someone who will come over and they'll want to show it to them," Haidar said. "They can only do it for two weeks, which is a little bit weird."

WMFO had previously made webcasts available for eight weeks following the original broadcasts of shows, according to Sayler.

"It has essentially made our archives harder to access and less functional than they were before," he said.

Rawlins said WMFO has had less difficulty than other stations in initiating compliance with the portion of the new rules requiring stations to report the number of listeners per each broadcast of every song. This ease stemmed from WMFO's use of a playlist logging website, Spinitron.com, which the station began using before the regulations came into effect.

After collecting the $500 annual fees from stations, SoundExchange distributes funds to sound recording copyright holders based on the stations' self-generated reports of how frequently they play artists' work, according to Rawlins.

SoundExchange, she said, does not pay many lesser-known artists who are not registered with the organization. She encouraged college bands to register on the SoundExchange website.

Still, Rawlins believes that many of the new regulations, such as prohibiting DJs from announcing songs before broadcasting them or playing more than two songs from an album in a three-hour period, cannot effectively be enforced.

"Can they actually provide that kind of oversight to make sure that people are in compliance?" she said. "It just can't be done."

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