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Satellite Radio and the RIAA

cnet has an interesting article about the ongoing friction between the various digital radio operations (satellite radio, Internet radio, etc.) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Many of the newer satellite radio devices offer the capability to record individual songs for later playback on the device. It’s no different than time-shifting a television show on a DVR, right? Or is it?…

One person records The Beatles Let It Be on their XM2Go satellite radio and another person downloads the song off iTunes. The first person gets the song “for free” as part of their monthly subscription to XM Radio. The second person pays 99 cents for the song. The iTunes user gets a “certificate” to prove they truly “own” the song, but the reality is both people can play it back anytime they feel like it. As a consumer, I like the satellite radio model; as a publisher, I have to wonder if the RIAA has a legitimate beef.

Sure, it’s always been OK to record songs off the radio under the protection of “fair use.” Digital technologies and devices make it much easier to create high-quality copies than you previously could with a cassette tape, for example. As much as I’d hate to alter the satellite radio financial model, something’s got to give to make this more equitable for the recording artists.


Jim Minatel

I'd assume that XM and Sirrus pay the same royalty or pay-per-play fee or whatever they call it that analog radio stations play for each song. All this money goes to RIAA which doles it out to the artists. I don't see in that case how digital radio is any worse for artists versus CD/online digital sales than analog radio is for artists versus cassette/lp/8 track sales. If the radio pay model for artists is unfair, it should be changed for all radio types, and not have an unfair distinction between "free" analog radio and subscription digital.

Joe Wikert

I still think it comes down to how likely you are to record and replay (over and over again) a song you recorded off the analog radio or one from your satellite radio. I think the latter is far more likely, and practical. Heck, the satellite devices are now coming with loads of memory built in to encourage you to record with them.

Look at it this way: Two people walk out of BestBuy. One has an XM2Go device and the other one just bought a state-of-the-art car audio system, sans satellite capabilities. The former is definitely going to record songs for later playback because the XM2Go device holds up to 5 hours of recordings. The car audio customer probably isn't going to try and rig something up to record for later playback...

Satellite Radio

If you're interested in being more equitable to the artists, start with the industry. The real shaft comes from the shares record labels give to artists.

Joe Wikert

Last time I checked, nobody was holding a gun to the artists heads. They signed an agreement and bought into the original terms so why should anything be changed? The labels used to have a lot more leverage than they do today. You don't like the terms the labels offer? Go the indy route. Loads of bands are finding life on MySpace and elsewhere. Sure, you don't get the PR engine of a major label behind you, but how many bands really do anyway?

It's the same as the book publishing world. Don't like the royalty rate offered by the major publishers? Go to lulu or one of the other self-publishing houses out there. You just have to look at the pros and cons of each option.

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