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DMCA: Hurting More Than It Helps

Written by [Anthony Dean-Harris]

Last week, I attended a meeting at my charming little non-commercial radio station, [KRTU San Antonio], about general protocol and other things on which the volunteer DJs may have needed some catching up on. The rigmarole covered the usual: the program that runs the music, refamiliarizing everyone with the sound board, preparing for the upcoming spring pledge drive (KRTU is non-commercial, listener-supported radio), and refreshing ourselves with FCC protocol. The meeting was going well. Rarely are there times when all the DJs are in the room at the same time, so that was clearly nice. Everything was going alright until we had to go over the steps to make sure we were compliant with the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act].

Those of us computer savvy enough to post past shows online suddenly had to rethink links and posts. Those of us with specialty shows dependent on whole hours of a single artist have to transition out of all that. Those of us who were used to playing whatever had to think more and more about logging what was played with label and composer information. Radio just got a little more complicated and frankly, a little less pure.

You could sense the outrage in the room from folks who were essentially hearing the exact same message they heard six months earlier at the same meeting before the station’s fall pledge drive (we only do two a year so as not to inundate folks with the pleas of the station, though KRTU does [accept donations year round online]). It is rather shocking that a radio station can’t really function as a radio station should, especially a non-commercial jazz station, because it’s so afraid of what existing on the internet will do to it.

The DMCA, while it has existed for about twelve years now, is theoretically a sound policy for dealing with music on the internet. It protects the little artist who may not have the chance to get what he/she deserves in making music. In spirit, it’s one of those “protect the little guy” policies that in practice doesn’t protect that little guy. The DMCA truly protects the music labels (and by extension, the floundering music industry overall) and, in name, trickles down to artists represented by labels for the most part. Those unrepresented by labels? Meh.

The DMCA is one of those things where I could see where the law was going before it got all bogged down in… well… being a law. It starts off trying to make sure artists are being compensated for their work but then it starts to [overstep its bounds]. What began as a way to make sure everyone got his/her fair share eventually shut down legitimate websites, destroyed support for up and coming talent, and is now starting to cripple radio stations for being radio stations.

As we sat around that conference table, some of us older than others (i.e. [me], a [new friend], and curiously enough, the station’s operations manager where the only people in the room younger than 30), we began to note the irony of all the costs of being in radio today. This was only a step toward paying for every song we played, completely antithetical to the older days of radio and the fear of payola. Dreaming of the days when corruption was in the favor of the radio station, not that we are a scruple-less bunch. Far from it.

This all stems from an industry still not knowing what to do in a changing time. While there are [indicators out there]that things really haven’t changed all that much, the industry is still running scared. Governments are shutting down websites (with little regard for content legitimacy). Children are served with lawsuits. Jazz stations are losing their ability to function as they formerly could. The waters out there are choppy and someone needs to figure out a better way to navigate this sea.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect] and you can also [follow him on Twitter].