This is the story of the big bad RIAA trying to blow the house of ReelRadio down. Or not. Depending on who you talk to and who you believe.
It all started in July, when the Recording Industry Association of America -- the RIAA -- sent a letter to my absolute favorite website -- ReelRadio.Com -- stating that ReelRadio was “out of compliance” with the statutory license they are operating under that allows ReelRadio to stream old recordings of radio stations, also known as airchecks, unscoped ... meaning including music as it was played on the radio.
ReelRadio is an online historical museum with thousands of recordings from radio stations across the country dating back as early as the 1920s. Many are “scoped,” meaning with the music removed. Many others are unscoped, and that is what the RIAA was writing about.
The original letter sounded ominous. “As part of a routine review of services utilizing the statutory license,” it reads, “we discovered that your service fails to comply with the following requirements”
Those requirements, according to the letter, include making sure that any recordings were more than five hours long and available for no more than two weeks. In addition, the online streaming player must identify the song title, artist and album the song came from as it is played.
Obviously these rules are intended for music services that stream music for the music itself. ReelRadio, on the other hand, streams music as part of a historical recording. Most recordings are recorded from mono AM radios, interference and all, and the streaming is done with ReelPlayer, basically incapable of doing the song identifications without someone entering the data song by song, stream by stream It would take continuous work for years to go through the thousands of recordings ReelRadio has in its archives.
The RIAA letter continues: “In order to continue operating under the statutory license, you must remedy these violations,” and adds a line about, “seeking any other remedies in law or equity.”
So I wrote a scathing letter to the RIAA’s Executive Vice President of Communications, Jonathan Lamy. Paraphrasing from multiple emails ... “Not so fast,” he says, “we just want ReelRadio to be part of a web page” called “WhyMusicMatters.Com.” If ReelRadio wants to continue to operate as it has been, that’s fine with the RIAA, according to Lamy.
But for reasons unknown, while Lamy tells me that, the RIAA official letters do not.
ReelRadio’s Richard Irwin, in the meantime, sent a reply asking for more time to become “compliant.” I personally disagree with that plan -- I think ReelRadio should just go back to playing unscoped airchecks as before, as I think the RIAA truly doesn’t care. But it’s not my site so my opinion is immaterial. I am not the one who received a threatening letter.
Officially the chain of events looks like this: Reelradio receives threatening letter, and responds by removing unscoped airchecks form the site. The RIAA receives complaints from ReelRadio fans and sends a “clarification” email stating that they just want ReelRadio to be “compliant” so they can be listed on the website. ReelRadio explains what they do and asks for an exemption. An RIAA attorney offers guidance on what can be done, which Reelradio determines is unworkable. ReelRadio then asks for more time to become compliant. The RIAA does not respond to ReelRadio, and has not since August 12th.
And they won’t. Lamy says they have already made numerous attempts to explain that they only wanted to do “vetting for the website (WhyMusicMatters).” In his last email to me, Lamy told me in no uncertain terms: “We’ve reached out a number of times, both formally and informally. Our General Council took the time to reach out to Mr. Irwin directly. We are not writing more letters.”
In the meantime, the Board of Directors of nonprofit ReelRadio are still justifiably frightened of what the RIAA might do. It’s not like the RIAA does not have a history of going after its own consumers. Only in this case, the RIAA and its members actually lose out ... many times I myself have bought music after hearing a long forgotten song on a scratchy unscoped aircheck on ReelRadio. And I am not alone. Additionally, ReelRadio does indeed pay the RIAA licensing fees through the supposed noncompliant statutory license.
But until ReelRadio feels reasonable assured that they won’t be sued into oblivion, they won’t put the unscoped airchecks back. At the risk of going under anyway, since supporter donations have dropped tremendously since the airchecks went away.
Yet a solution is simple, and I call on the RIAA to do the following: Get the General Council (who I believe is attorney Susan Chertkof) to call ReelRadio and have a real conversation. Then put in wiring what Lamy has told me numerous times: That the RIAA only cares about vetting for the site, that they truly don’t care what ReelRadio does since it is an online museum, and that they understand that ReelRadio is by no means a music downloading site.
It’s easy. And it is so very disturbing that three months have gone by without resolution to what should be a very easy solution. I call on the RIAA to do the right thing. Fix this now. There is no reason for this to continue.
Unless those who say the RIAA is essentially evil are correct.
Changes at CBS
CBS-owned KNX (1070 AM) and KFWB (980 AM) let go of programmer Andy Ludlum Money 101 reporter Bob McCormick. And over at KRTH (101.1 FM), four of the six weekend and fill-in jocks were let go last week as well: Sylvia Aimerito, Dave Randall, Christian Wheel and Bruce Chandler.
Programmer Chris Ebbott told LARadio.Com’s Don Barrett that “We are making some changes to the sound of our weekends. Will have an announcement about those plans soon.” My hunch is that lower cost has a lot to do with those changes, but I am not totally convinced of that either. Details, as they arrive.