Strange Bedfellows

I received an email response from my Senator in NJ, Frank R. Lautenberg concerning my interest in the Internet radio issue that I've written about here earlier.

Of course, we all know that these letters are read and answered by staffers - I really don't expect my Senator to spend time doing that - but we also hope that the word actually does get to the politician and that it has some effect.

I'm not a political letter writer. I'm rather apolitical though certainly not apathetic, and I don't see this blog as political at all. But sometimes there are these issues that emerge that really do affect the way we use technology as educators.

This one reaches beyond the idea of listening to Net radio while you are at work and at home into my concerns about the royalties being applied unfairly and in such a way that it stifles digital creativity.

I'm more passionate about copyright issues and there are some similarities. Copyright was designed to not only protect creators but allow for creative uses including copying. Copyright in this Net age seems terribly out of date, and there are more and more cases of both the law being abused by creators (or those who claim ownership) for profit, and examples of users ignoring the law or "reinterpreting" it for their own purposes (see illegal downloads).

I've attended and given workshops for educators on copyright & Fair Use and speakers almost always open with "I am not a lawyer but..."  The strange thing is that even those sessions given by lawyers often include a "disclaimer" that there are no precedents for many situations. If I was to do a 90 minute workshop on this for teachers, I would allow half the time to answer questions, because that's what they want to know. Teachers want "legal advice" - Can I use those photos? Can I excerpt that movie I always use in class and put it in Blackboard? Can I make another copy of the software to use on my other class computer? It's confusing to everyone it seems.

Back to the Senator - his reply is below and I'm encouraged that he mentions the "Internet Radio Equality Act" though it's not clear what Lautenberg's opinion of that bill is pro/con.

I am sure that this post is not of great interest to a good number of my readers. I think politics is a turnoff to many of you, and your interest is more towards using tech in the classroom. I only say that the politics (unpleasant as it is) does affect that in the same ways that No Child Left Behind affects the K-12 classroom. It might not be in your mind as you prepare a lesson on Macbeth or teach it, but it's there.

Here's the Lautenberg email reply:

Thank you for contacting me about the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) and its recent determination of music royalty rates. I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, the CRB issued its decision on new rates for commercial and noncommercial webcasters on March 9, 2007. Under the Small Webcasters Settlement Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-321), Congress allowed qualifying small webcasters to decide to pay royalties as a percentage of their revenue rather than on a "per song, per listener" basis. This solution was temporary, however, and the former rate structure expired in December, 2005. Under the CRB's new rules, webcasters may no longer elect to pay percentage royalties and must pay per song, per user rates established by the CRB.

I share your concern about the ability of small webcasters to afford higher royalties . Recently, Senators Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) introduced the "Internet Radio Equality Act" (S.1353). This bill would overturn the CRB's March decision and apply royalty rate-setting standards from the satellite radio industry to commercial Internet radio broadcasters. Please be assured I will keep your views in mind should the Senate consider this legislation .


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