DiMA Looks to the Courts

DiMA (www.digmedia.org), a digital music trade group (along with several webcasting companies including Launch Media, MTVi, MusicMatch, and Listen.com) asked the U.S. District Court in San Francisco to confirm that consumer-influenced Internet radio services are eligible for the sound recording statutory license that Congress enacted as part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The fee for this statutory license has yet to be determined and the much-delayed arbitration in front of the U.S. Copyright Office is currently set to begin later this summer. The current legal filings are regarding what services will be eligible for this statutory fee.

Last week, the RIAA filed to have several webcasters — including Launch Media and MusicMatch — barred from the arbitration proceedings of the statutory fee, claiming that their consumer preference features made their services ineligible. As a result, the RIAA filed suit against Launch alleging that its personalized Launchcast stations violate copyright laws. Launch has since discontinued all fan-programmed Launchcast stations except certain pre-programmed ones.

The DMCA states that interactive webcasting services are not covered under this compulsory fee and companies must therefore obtain individual licenses from the record labels. The exact definition of an "interactive" webcast is up for interpretation, however.

In December 2000, the U.S. Copyright office declined to rule on a petition issued by DiMA that asked to delineate a gray area in the law concerning the definition of an interactive service. DiMA contends that services that are subject to consumer influence, such as personalization features, soliciting musical preference, or song ratings, should be covered under the webcasting compulsory license. The U.S. Copyright Office at that time stated that the language of the law was sufficient, which DiMA considered a confirmation of its beliefs.

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