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Radio News (more headlines) 06-21-2004

RIAA Asks FCC To Adopt Protections Against Digital Radio Piracy

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WASHINGTON -- The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) will submit comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today encouraging the adoption of rules that would protect music played through digital radio receivers from widespread piracy.

The RIAA's 81-page filing, backed up by four separate reports, describes the industry's strong support for digital (or "high-definition") radio. According to the brief, the technology offers consumers numerous benefits, including increased fidelity and more exposure to music. Excitement about the technology's prospects is tempered by a degree a caution, though, and the RIAA's filing outlines the dangers of unprotected "HD radio." This includes the ability to create free libraries of thousands of CD-like quality songs by "cherry-picking" the music wanted through an automated search function and redistributing songs over the Internet.

Earlier this year, the FCC initiated a rulemaking process and proposed a "notice of inquiry" to determine if the Commission should consider federal rules protecting content distributed through "HD radio." Today is the deadline for all parties to submit comments to the FCC.

Attesting to the breadth of interest and shared concern within the music community, groups such as the Recording Artists Coalition (RAC), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the Recording Academy, American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) are expected to submit comments to the FCC.

"The potential upside of digital radio for fans, artist and labels, broadcasters and others in the music chain is tantalizing," said Mitch Bainwol, Chairman and CEO of the RIAA. "For the potential to be fully reached, we need the help of the FCC to approve some common-sense safeguards. Given the enormous damage wrought by peer-to-peer piracy, a little advance prudence here would go a long way."

The RIAA's brief argues that unprotected high-definition radio could become a popular substitute for the unauthorized peer-to-peer networks, as consumers could acquire all the music they want from free over-the-air broadcasts with CD-like quality without having to download any software, expose their computers to viruses and spyware or themselves to a copyright infringement lawsuit.

The potential economic consequences for artists, songwriters and record labels is highlighted by an RIAA-commissioned survey by Public Opinion Strategies that found that "consumers readily predict a decline in their music purchases once they acquire this new technology (56% of consumers under 55 say they would be buying less music if they have digital radio)."

Broadcasters, retailers and on-demand download services stand to lose as well, according to the RIAA's brief. The first two groups will lose the opportunity to provide a "buy button" to satisfy impulse purchases, and broadcasters in particular will experience a decline in audiences, as listeners have no need to tune in except to record new music. Services such as iTunes and Rhapsody could be undermined by the availability of free CD-like quality music. According to the Public Opinion Strategies poll, "82% of under 55 consumers say they would program their radio to 'skip past commercials and automatically go to songs' by their favorite artists. Moreover, 69% of under 55 consumers would delay listening to radio programming until later so they could 'skip the commercials.'"

The RIAA's brief makes it clear that there is no intent to prevent consumers from enjoying "HD radio" as they would traditional analog radio: manually pressing a button to start and stop recording a song. Instead, the group argues for rules that would prohibit "cherry-picking" or the unfettered redistribution of the music.

The standard for "hd radio" adopted by the FCC is controlled by the Maryland company iBiquity Digital.

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