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              A supporter looks on outside the Greek state television ERT headquarters after the government

The copyright reforms Congress should be considering, instead of radio royalties

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Derek Khanna
Technology Activist
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      Derek Khanna

      Derek Khanna is a fellow with Yale Law’s Information Society Project. He was previously a hill staffer at the Republican Study Committee, has previous work experience with Microsoft, and spearheaded the national campaign on cellphone unlocking. He is a leading conservative voice on technology policy, and has spoken at the International Consumer Electronics Show, Conservative Political Action Conference, South by Southwest and at major universities.

“This is amateur station W2AG at Yonkers, New York, operating on frequency modulation at two and half meters.”

That was the first broadcast of FM radio in the world.

They said it couldn’t be done, but in 1933 the first FM broadcast volleyed the clearest signal ever heard over a radio forty miles away. Listeners had never heard anything like it.

Broadcasting over FM eliminated static and provided better sound quality than AM by producing most of the range audible to the human ear.  Both established AM market players and music industry interests quickly realized this meant FM radio would displace AM, but they also worried it would be the end of customers paying for performances or buying records.

To avoid this result, lobbyists got to work in Washington. RCA in particular was involved in asking the FCC to move FM radio to a different band of spectrum while also cutting the broadcast power of FM radio to ensure to limit the range of each FM station. The FCC finalized this move in 1945, while granting the emerging technology of television the better bandwidth.

Of course the music industry’s fears were never fully realized. Having music played on the radio ended up being quite a boon for the record industry. It allowed new songs to be heard across the entire country. Radio broadcasters introducing American audiences to their music allowed for new artists to rise rapidly on the national stage. Radio has played a big part in creating a robust, competitive and dynamic music market-place.

Today there is a proposal to regulate the market by expanding copyright, which would increase the costs for broadcasters, and potentially disrupt the ability for emerging artists to get on the radio. As is the case for all forms of greater regulation, the onus is on content holders to prove how this regulation is beneficial, and whether further expansions of copyright fall within the Constitution’s purpose of promoting “the progress of science and useful arts.”

Data shows that copyright is important for this purpose, but economists have long been opposed to significant extensions of copyright beyond its constitutional purpose. Conservatives support constitutional copyright, not Mickey Mouse copyright. While current policies may work for the few, the data demonstrates that deviating from the Constitution has caused unintended negative effects for many, including the creators of new content, innovators and the general public.

Instead of addressing these very important issues, instead of seriously caring about the interests of artists and movie creators, lobbyists for the content industry are changing the conversation, to avoid talking about real problems and constitutional principles. This diversion is the proposed regulation of broadcast radio.

Apparently these guys are so slow to adapt to new technologies that they believe now is the appropriate time to deal with the FM technology of 1933.

For several years, major lobbying groups for the content industry have tried to implement a performance royalty fee, which would require radio broadcasters to pay musicians for broadcasting music – which they already do for the composition itself.