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Editorial | DMCA: Restricting college radio without benefit

Published: Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Updated: Sunday, October 31, 2010 17:10

Due to 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) Performance Complement provisions, WMFO Tufts Freeform Radio this semester must begin paying $500 annually to a non−profit that distributes royalties to owners of sound recording copyrights.

WMFO's DJs are now prohibited from forwardly announcing song titles, broadcasting more than three songs from the same album or four songs from the same artist in a three−hour period, making archived webcasts of their shows available online for longer than two weeks and making those webcasts available for download.

While these legal measures were designed to ensure that artists get royalties and to prevent piracy, they are a net detriment. Placing these restrictions on college radio stations will hardly prevent music fans from illegally downloading music, yet they make it more difficult for small−budget, understaffed university stations to operate.

University stationsoffer an eclectic variety of music and play an important role in helping new artists and bands gain publicity, while exposing students and listeners in the surrounding community to new types of music. Thus, it is vital that the kinds of restrictions stipulated by the DMCA do not discourage students from getting involved in college radio or cause university stations to shut down.

Webcasts have provided an amazing opportunity to college radio stations, giving them the opportunity to reach Internet users worldwide. However, now that college radio stations are no longer permitted to make webcasts available to download and must take them down after two weeks, the reach and impact of small university radio stations will likely be diminished.

Belinda Rawlins, executive director of the Transmission Project, — which aided WMFO's compliance with the new rules — stated that WMFO is not facing severe difficulties because it already had access to the playlist logging software that the legislation requires. Despite this, it is still harder for students who work for the radio to share their work with peers and restricts what DJs can choose to broadcast. 

Logistically speaking, it is very unlikely that DMCA regulation of college radio stations will actually make a substantive difference in the amount of royalties that artists receive. Downloading music from services like Limewire is very common — though perhaps less so for students connected to the Tufts network who risk reprimand from University Information Technology.

Though the Daily does not endorse music theft, it must be said that there are far easier and more commonly used ways to pirate music than utilizing low−quality−audio online radio streams, which is the sort of piracy these regulations affecting WMFO hope to put a stop to. It should also be noted that thanks to websites like YouTube, Pandora.com and Grooveshark.com, students have more options than ever for legally listening to free music online.

Frivolous regulations on the number of songs from an artist that can be played or preventing the preemptive naming of a song do not act as a viable deterrent to pirating music. Instead, they place irksome and detrimental restrictions on college radio stations and have the potential to cut off an important source of access to new and eclectic music not only for college students, but for music lovers worldwide.

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Correction: An earlier version of this incorrectly stated that a University of Michigan Duke Ellington radio show was not possible under the regulations.  In fact, college radio stations have the ability to negotiate directly with copyright holders for different terms (such as the ability to play for than four songs from a single artist in a three-hour period) than those stipulated by the DMCA Performance Compliment.

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