RIAA wary of radio via satellite

Citing a looming threat to the music industry, the Recording Industry Assn. of America is urging the Federal Communications Commission to take a cautious approach to a new technology known as satellite digital audio broadcasting.

Satellite DAB is being billed as a “celestial jukebox” in which compact disc-quality recordings can be delivered nationally to radio listeners at home or in the automobile.

Just last month, the FCC proposed allocating spectrum for the new service and accepted the application of Satellite CD Radio, a D.C.-based firm, which proposes to have its satellite DAB service up and running by 1996.

‘Devastating impact’

RIAA, in comments filed in response to the Satellite CD Radio grant application, told the FCC that “without adequate protection, these digital audio broadcasting services could have a devastating impact on the recording industry, and ultimately on the listening public as well.

“For example, unless subject to certain controls, a digital radio service could transmit with CD quality an entire album of a popular artist, such as R.E.M.’s new hit album ‘Automatic for the People,’ on the day of its release, thereby making it available to millions of R.E.M. fans throughout the country.

“One can readily see how this capability could virtually wipe out the economic incentive now afforded to record creators to produce new recordings by eliminating the market for the sale of prerecorded music– the only existing means for providing compensation to the record producers and the artists whose performances are fixed on the recording.”

Protection proposal

RIAA recommended that the FCC “fully protect the copyright interests” of the music industry and to limit satellite radio DAB transmissions to “an individual selection from a particular album during a limited time period.”

In its filing at the FCC, the RIAA renewed its pitch for performance-rights royalties for performing artists, a plea that has surfaced on several occasions in the last decade but which has never gained much headway in Congress.

The concept calls for broadcasters to fork over royalties to the music industry for their use of prerecorded music beyond the licensing fees they pay each year to ASCAP and BMI.

Broadcasters have successfully lobbied against consideration of performance rights royalties and remain opposed to the concept.

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