Royalties Kill Our Radio Star

Non-profit stations should be exempt from copyright fees that would threaten their existence

In a dramatic contrast from only a decade ago, virtually all Harvard students have personal computers. A good old-fashioned radio, on the other hand, is becoming difficult to find. Undergraduates use the Internet far more often than they listen to the airwaves—illustrating the damage that will be done to nonprofit student radio stations because of a recent decision to charge royalties for songs broadcast over the Internet.

Harvard’s student-run radio station, WHRB, and hundreds of other college not-for-profit radio stations may be forced to stop wireless web streaming altogether if they are not exempt from the charges. Although the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act established the principle that the web was not exempt from royalty fees, it was only earlier this year that the Library of Congress Copyright Division set the actual fee, at seven-hundredths of a penny per song per person. At the same time, the library mandated that royalties be paid retroactively for all songs broadcast on the Internet since 1998.

While it is understandable that profit-making stations should pay royalties for both streaming and regular broadcasting, the library should not force nonprofit stations to pay fees now for songs they aired in 1998. College stations in particular do not have large cash reserves; they often live from hand to mouth, and many will not be able to foot such a hefty bill. Even those that do survive will find it difficult, if not impossible, to continue broadcasting over the Internet. But as fewer and fewer listeners tune in by radio, web streaming will become increasingly crucial. If they are cut off from this new medium, these stations have little hope of surviving in the long term.

When the fee determination is reviewed at the end of the month, the library should exempt nonprofit radio stations from this unnecessarily punitive and potentially fatal royalty fee.