WNUR to keep online broadcast despite fees

Cris Ramon

After several months of speculation that it might have to shut down its online streamcast, WNUR-FM (89.3) will continue to stream music from its Web site after paying fees it owed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The fees threatened to shut down the radio station’s four-year-old webcasts, which play a variety of rock, jazz, hip-hop and electronica.

Mark Bowden, general manager of WNUR, said the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which was passed by Congress in 1998, mandated nonprofit radio stations like WNUR pay .02 cents for every listener hearing a song.

John Simson, executive director of SoundExchange, the company built to receive payments from webcasters, said the fees go to pay the artists and the labels behind the songs.

“If you look at the world, the United States has been the lone holdout where every other major country has performance rights for the owners of the copyrights,” Simson said. “Why shouldn’t the recording arist and the label get paid when a song is played on the radio?”

Simson said that the government decided labels and artists should receive performance rights on the Internet and wrote the rules of the Digital Millennium Act to safeguard those online rights.

“Congress realized that you need different rules in the digital world … so they gave us a safegaurd (against) people taking the work because they could make copies,” Simson said.

“In exchange to allow anything you want to stream, you will have to pay for that right,” Simson added. “It is no different from electricity, we should pay for it.”

Bowden said that WNUR staff was concerned about shutting down the Web sites’ streaming music because of the fees the act imposed on the radio station.

“We were worried that we had to shut down our two Web streams. As it turned out the fees were less than we expected,” Bowden said.

WNUR had enough funds from Northwestern and listener donations to pay off the fees, Bowden said.

“We’re pretty lucky because we are backed by Northwestern and we are able to fund through our webcast where as a lot of webcasters are in a smaller level and the only money they can make is through scanned ads,” Bowden said.

Nevertheless, Rick Morris, faculty adviser to WNUR and assistant dean in the School of Communication, said that even though the radio station could pay the fees, there was still a hindrance since the station already pays a number of copyright fees.

“(It) seems like a lot for a small radio station,” Morris said. “But we are certainly willing to pay them and we are able to pay them.”

WNUR is not the only college radio station who faced payment problems with rules regulating webcasts.

Nichole Benavente, manager for UCLARadio, the University of California, Los Angeles’ radio station, said that the station had to cut down the time its streamcast played music due to costs.

“We didn’t cut the streamcast out all the way, but we only broadcast music from 4:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.,” Benavente said. “It is kind of a hindrance because the UCLA student media says … they want to keep operating costs at a minimum.”

But despite the past problems with webcasting and the fees, Bowden said that WNUR will stay committed to playing its standard programming.

“We will not be changing our program because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” Bowden said. “It adds a little bit to our costs, but it doesn’t alter our fundamental program decisions.”