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Machines Like Us

Is this the end of online radio streaming?

Thursday, 14 February 2013
by Karl Schaffarczyk

Yesterday’s Federal Court decision has the potential to change the future of online broadcasting. Alan Klim

Online streaming of radio broadcasts may be a thing of the past after the [Australian] Full Federal Court yesterday handed down a ruling that will result in radio stations paying higher royalties to the recording industry.

The Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA), on behalf of recording artists and music labels, won a declaration that internet simulcasts of radio programs fall outside the definition of a “broadcast” under the Copyright Act and are therefore not covered by existing licences granted to commercial radio networks.

Following on from a failed High Court bid to increase license fees, legal action was initiated in 2010 by PPCA to separate licensing for online radio programs from traditional broadcasts.

The PPCA’s purpose seems to be clear: to create a new revenue stream from online license fees. This was at a time PPCA was aggressively pursuing increases in their revenues, such as fee increases of 4,729% for operators of cafes and gyms.

Meet the players

The PPCA is one of a number of copyright collecting societies: when anyone plays recorded music such as a CD, MP3 or music video in public, permission must be obtained from the person or company that owns the copyright of that recording.

The PPCA represents many copyright holders – both record labels and individual artists. It is then the job of the PPCA to issue licenses for the public performance of recorded music, and to collect license fees and return those to the copyright holder.

Commercial Radio Australia (CRA) is the peak body representing commercial radio industry interests in Australia – it claims to represent 99% of commercial radio stations.

In short, if you listen to commercial radio then the chances are the radio station is a member of CRA.

Let the battle commence

In 2000, on behalf of its members, CRA obtained an “umbrella” license granting each member a license to broadcast recorded music, and those arrangements remain in place today.

At the time, radio stations making their broadcasts available online was a new thing, and it’s likely online content was not contemplated as a threat in the context of the agreement.

During 2010 the PPCA claimed that a CRA member radio station – NovaFM – had breached copyright in a work managed by the PPCA.