RIAA now pressuring non-profit archives on copyright

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Recent reports out of two non-profit media sites, ReelRadio and PatesTapes, reveal that the notorious copyright hawk RIAA is at it again.

The RIAA is the trade group that represents the music industry, or more precisely the record companies. They have been at the forefront of just about every effort to curb piracy, perhaps most famously with the takedown of Napster.

Now with more clout than ever and apparently too little to do, the RIAA is rattling the cages of two independent, not-for-profit websites according to TorrentFreak.

Decades-old radio recordings? Copyright infringement!

ReelRadio is a site that has been around for almost 20 years and specializes in old radio shows. More precisely, they are an archive of various airchecks. These are recordings made by DJs, stations, or listeners of live radio broadcasts that were used for various purposes, such as critique, to demonstrate ads, or just private listening.

The popularity of ReelRadio, beyond the historical interest of age-old radio broadcasts, is due in large part to the nostalgia value to people who were alive during the original broadcasts. To do this without violating copyright law, ReelRadio pays licensing fees to the copyright owners of these broadcasts. Again, this has been going on smoothly for almost 20 year.s

The RIAA is now applying pressure to ReelRadio for not meeting what are arguably unreasonable fine-print points of the law. This concerns what are called “unscoped” airchecks, which just means that the music is not removed from the recordings. ReelRadio pays for the license to redistribute unscoped airchecks. The devil, however, is in the details. The non-profit’s president explained to TorrentFreak:

The RIAA has determined that our service fails to meet the requirements for ‘archived programs’, which must be at least five hours in duration and may not be available for more than two weeks. The service must also display the Title, Artist and Album of each featured song, but only while the recording is being performed.

There are several problems for a company trying to be compliant. First of all, 5 hour broadcasts will likely require the recordings to include multiple programs and takes additional computational and human power to create. To make each piece only available for two weeks undermines the entire purpose of an archive.

Secondly, to require a display of the song information in real time with the performance requires technological expertise that wasn’t available when the archive was created and would require unfathomable labor to go through each old recording and append this information in perfect synchronization with the start and stop of each track.

Additionally, the RIAA wants ReelRadio to get express permission from each and every station to rebroadcast the recordings. ReelRadio explains that the vast majority of stations have either changed ownership multiple times and/or are now defunct. In other cases, they simply don’t even care enough to respond to requests like that.

The RIAA would almost certainly win if this goes to court, but the problem seems to be that the relevant law is not intended to deal with this situation and was designed in such a way that it couldn’t be complied with. There isn’t anyone to be harmed by these decades-old airchecks. People aren’t going to fail to purchase a 50-year-old song because they can hear it in the middle of a 2-hour radio broadcast that they have to pay a fee to hear. ReelRadio’s president again:

The statutory law was written for online radio stations and automated playout systems. It didn’t consider historical radio recordings. The law is outdated and inadequate. They don’t have to go any further, and they shouldn’t.

For now, ReelRadio is going to try to avoid shutting down by attempting to put together compliant tracks that have the limited availability as requested by the RIAA. For the most part, though, they are stuck with “scoped” recordings – those with the music removed. By and large, scoped recordings are only scoped because that’s how they are recorded. Removing the music manually is far too laborious for a small non-profit like ReelRadio.

ReelRadio is not alone

Now PatesTapes, a similar service that is not only non-profit but non-revenue generating, is receiving the same threats from the RIAA. Their situation is far more dicey because they are not a corporation like ReelRadio. It is simply a “labor of love” by a few people who decided to put up the thousands of dollars in licensing fees themselves.

PatesTapes, rather than radio, is an archive of vinyl-to-digital recordings. It is intended to be a demonstration of musical styles, eras, and genres via mixtapes. Tracks are not available for download. Of course, licensing fees were paid and lawyers were consulted before the project launched. Nonetheless, it appeared they were going to shut down before a change of heart.

This may or may not pass muster in court. It had already prevented downloading tracks or skipping. You could play, pause, or choose another mixtape. It was not meant to supplant music ownership, but rather provide a means of music discovery.

The demand for five-hour recordings remains in the complaints to PatesTapes, which is particularly bewildering – does the RIAA want more music available? The two-week term for uploads remains as well. A new wrinkle is that listeners are not supposed to be told which tracks are in each mixtape before they listen to it. There’s a little logic there, at least.

The threatening letters from the RIAA to both ReelRadio and PatesTapes conclude the same way:

If we do not hear from you by August 22, 2014, we will assume that you do not intend to remedy the violations and will take whatever measures we feel are necessary.

These seem to be the words of an entity who does not intend to work with people, to see how the interests of artists can be balanced with society’s interest in artists’ music, or show any mercy whatsoever.

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Tags: Copyright Music Piracy Riaa Streaming Technology

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