Neil McCabe

The Internet music listeners should be plugged into whether or not the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee will reform how the government sets its royalty payments.

The new chairman, Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte (R.Va.) is a self-described fan of web radio and the chairman of the Congressional Internet Caucus, so the expectation is that he will bring an end to the music feudalism, where broadcast radio pays nothing in recorded performance royalties, but web-based music services, what the government calls “non-interactive transmission,” pay 50 percent of their revenues.

In the last Congress, bills in the House and Senate would bring the web-based music services in line with what the government makes satellite-based SiriusXM pay.

A Utah Republican congressman led the charge on the House bill.

“This bill would allow for natural, market-based competition, rather than the procedural favoritism that exists under the current standard,” said Rep. Jason E. Chaffetz (R.-Utah), who maternal grandfather Harry Ellis Dickson was for 49 years, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s concertmaster.

“It would also halt the current discrimination against services just because they happen to be delivered over the internet,” he said.

A companion bill in the Senate will be filed by Sen. Ronald L. Wyden (D.-Ore.), who said digital services for broadcasting music are one area of innovation on the Internet being stifled.

In 1998, federal laws were enacted that specifically constrained the development of Internet radio as a commercially viable service, he said.

“The Internet has shown itself to be an incredible tool for enabling innovation and competition to make existing industries better,” Wyden said.

“Fourteen years ago, when online radio was in its infancy, the incumbent interests were successful at getting laws passed to discriminate against the Internet,” he said. “This bill puts Internet Radio on an even plane with its competitors, and allows the music marketplace to evolve and to expand--which will ultimately benefit artists and the internet economy.”

The royalties for recorded performances are paid out at different rates as determined by the Copyright Royalty Board, a three-man panel appointed by the Librarian of Congress since 1987, James H. Billington, the same individual, who made unlocking your cell phone a federal felony.

The CRB is supposed to consider many factors, balancing the need to make music as accessible as possible to the widest audience and the need to reward the owners of the music. But, in reality, the board is free to decide as it chooses.

Neil McCabe

Neil W. McCabe is a journalist working in Washington. He was a senior reporter for the Human Events newspaper and for many years a reporter for The Pilot, Boston's Catholic paper. In 2009, he deployed to Iraq with the Army as a combat historian for 15 months.