WOBC Webcast In Jeopardy
by Michelle Sharkey

If new regulations proposed last February by the U.S. Copyright office are approved, WOBC, Oberlin College’s student-run radio station, may be forced to discontinue its internet broadcast. The proposed regulations, which could be passed as early as next month, would impose new restrictions and fees on radio stations that broadcast over the internet. The deadline to revise or approve the recommendations is May 21. Under the new regulations, WOBC, which has been maintaining a webcast of its content since the fall of 2000, could face additional copyright regulations, as well as thousands of dollars in additional fees annually.
The proposed regulations, released in response to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, require that radio stations provide detailed information to the recording industry for every song that is broadcast over the internet. In addition, stations would have to display this information online while the song is being played. According to WOBC station manager and senior Joe Kremer, “[Meeting reporting requirements] is not possible right now; we can report some song information digitally, but they’re asking for more than we can provide.” The record-keeping requirement poses a particular challenge to stations like WOBC, which does not have its record library indexed in a database, and broadcasts much of its music from DJs’ personal music collections.
If the regulation is approved, WOBC may not be able to continue its webcast. “[The] record-keeping requirement would have been really impossible for a volunteer organization….I think it would have to be a paid position if it went into effect,” said Lisa Farrar, a volunteer with WOBC and College staff member, who has played a significant role in fighting the proposed regulations. Loss of the webcast would severly limit the station’s listening population. “It hurts us being in the middle of Ohio…[the regulations would] limit the community we have the opportunity to share with,” Kremer said.
“We should do everything in our power to not have that happen, even if it means doing some heavy stuff....We have a right to the airwaves,” first-year Crockett Doob said
Other requirements that could place the future of WOBC’s webcast in jeopardy include a new fee structure and content limitations. WOBC, like other stations, currently pays royalty fees for the songs it broadcasts. However, under the new regulations the station would have to pay an additional fees for songs broadcast over the internet — a flat rate of $500 in addition to a fee of 0.02 cents per song, per listener. In addition, these rates would be retroactive to 1998, meaning that WOBC would be held accountable for fees dating back two years to the launch of its webcast. “We would be paying $1500 to stay on the web next year, and we couldn’t afford this, so we would have to go off for at least a while,” Kremer said. Additional fees would place enough of a strain on the station’s budget that webcasting would probably have to cease. According to Kremer, WOBC’s budget for next year will be less than half of this year’s figure, making additional fees an even greater hardship.
“I understand that the recording industry has been losing money in the past few years, and is trying to crack down on ‘free music’ but it seems silly to me to charge college radio stations money because most of them, like WOBC, are non-profit,” WOBC DJ and first-year Monica Lee said.
Along with monetary restrictions, content limitations, which include stipulations about how often songs can be played from the same album, could go into effect if the recommendations are adopted. These restrictions are primarily an attempt to prevent illegal copying of songs broadcast over the internet. While these don’t pose as much of a logistical problem for the station, they are still problematic, according to Kremer. “Right now, we’re able to give DJs basically complete freedom as to what they can play… [content restrictions] goes against giving DJs complete power over their show.”
If the webcast is abolished, listeners will lose more than the opportunity to listen to WOBC from as far away as Germany, or as near as the computer lab in A-Level. The WOBC website currently incorporates special features that are made possible through the webcast. The playlists for each show are listed on the WOBC website, a feature that few non-commercial stations of WOBC’s size make available. Also innovative is a feature that allows listeners to search through playlists by song, artist or record label. “We’ve built the website and playlist system around the webcast,” said Kremer. “[The] playlist system…is unique; without the webcast, we’re a much smaller radio station; with it, we’re a much bigger deal.”
Stations with webcasts nationwide, both commercial and non-commercial, have been fighting these new requirements. The “Save Our Streams” website, part of the growing grassroots effort against the new regulations, is a clearinghouse of information about developments in the legislation. The site (www.rice.edu/cb/sos) encourages individuals to contact their representatives in Congress to express their opposition to the regulations.
Despite the uncertain future of internet broadcasting freedoms, there is still hope for independent broadcasters like WOBC. A roundtable discussion is being held in May at the U.S. Copyright Office to address the hardships the record-keeping requirements pose for small businesses. Farrar remains hopeful that the Office will recognize the unique challenges that non-commercial broadcasters face. “It’s not just about protecting college radio, it’s about protecting the diversity of what’s available out there,” Farrar said.

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