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Library of Congress writing the book

Sep 3, 2001  •  Post A Comment

How much broadcasters and other media companies that webcast sound recordings should pay artists and record companies is being determined deep in the bowels of the U.S. Library of Congress building by the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel, or CARP.
The U.S. Copyright Office was required to set up CARP to arbitrate royalty disputes when industry parties are unable to work out an agreement on their own.
Among the major contenders in the webcast case are the Recording Industry Association of America and radio powerhouse Clear Channel Communications.
Under standard CARP procedures, the copyright office has charged a panel of three independent arbitrators with recommending a solution by Jan. 28. Then it will be up to Librarian of Congress James Billington to decide whether to give the plan the nod.
The proceedings themselves, which were officially launched July 30, are generally considered to be one of the duller shows in Washington because the testimony is laced with ponderous statistics and economic mumbo jumbo. But this time around, the recording industry got a lift with the testimony of Jennifer Warnes, the singer who recorded “Up Where We Belong” with Joe Cocker for the 1982 movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
“While I’ve worked consistently as a singer for more than 30 years, I’ve found it difficult to make a living as a recording artist in this business,” Ms. Warnes told the panel.
To remedy the situation, RIAA has asked the panel to require webcasters to pony up four-tenths of a cent for every recording played or 15 percent of their revenues as royalties. Webcasters, meanwhile, have suggested the rate be set at 15 hundredths of a cent for every hour of music that’s listened to.
Though many of the National Association of Broadcasters’ most influential members are parties to the proceeding, the association itself is not.
“It’s our contention that there should be no fees,” said Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman. “We feel Congress exempted broadcasters from paying any performance fees, either in analog or digital.”
Despite Mr. Wharton’s druthers, a federal district court recently ruled in favor of the RIAA and recording artists on the issue.
“We are pleased that the court upheld the rights of artists and record companies,” said Hilary Rosen, RIAA president and CEO.
Under the CARP rules, a final decision on the royalties is supposed to be handed down by the end of April. But when the assessments will finally go into effect is impossible to predict because the panel’s recommendation can also be appealed in the courts.