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The Stealing of a Culture
April 3, 2002
By Walker

Dear Congresswoman DeGette,

I am writing you concerning a current issue involving the future of American culture that worries me greatly. As you are no doubt aware, in 1998 Congress passed legislation known as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The intent of DMCA was to provide fair compensation to sound recording copyright owners for material digitally broadcast over the web.

The Librarian of Congress empanelled a group known as the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Proceeding (CARP) to resolve the implementation details of DMCA. Apparently CARP's final recommendation was predicated upon the assumption that music webcasting would be in the hands of internet giants such as AOL and YAHOO. This is not what has happened.

Instead, a new, exciting webcasting industry has sprung up composed of small, independent, entrepreneurial webcasters serving a wide variety of listener tastes that, until the spread of webcasting, have been completely ignored by the vast wasteland that comprises contemporary commercial broadcasting. CARP's proposed fee and reporting structures will most certainly destroy this new industry before it even has a chance to become viable.

I will spare you the details here but I have included information links concerning this deplorable situation at the bottom of this letter.

My concern has cultural implications that are much broader than just my ability to have a diversity of broadcast music available to me. I support our capitalistic economic system despite its numerous flaws because it beats all the alternatives. I support it because of its strengths which include the encouragement of the entrepreneurial spirit, quality assurance through competition and freedom of consumer choice.

So I ask, what is capitalistic about allowing a consortium of federal bureaucrats and megalithic corporations and industrial associations to destroy a fledgling industry, which is struggling toward profitability? This isn't capitalism, it is corporate socialism of the most egregious sort; and it threatens to cripple our cultural heritage as surely as decades of "cultural commissars" virtually destroyed contemporary cultures in Eastern Europe under the Soviet Union.

The sad thing is this is a no-win situation for almost everyone involved. Artists - especially those who have not received the blessing of the commercial broadcasting industry - lose valuable exposure. Webcasters lose their businesses. Listeners lose the new freedom of choice in what they hear. And what about the record companies? They think that DMCA will protect their profits. They couldn't be more wrong.

They pay millions of dollars a year to intermediaries to secure airplay for the music they choose to promote. But a funny thing happened at the Grammy's this year. The majority of the most prestigious awards went to artists and a genre that gets virtually no airplay. This was because millions of moviegoers heard American music in a popular movie that they'd never heard before, and they ran out and bought the soundtrack.

No doubt many of those people are now asking where they can hear more. The audience is there and so is the venue and it sure isn't corporate radio; but the incredibly shortsighted recording industry is foolishly trying to destroy this new venue which is a potentially huge source of free promotion for their product.

Suppose that for whatever reason draconian regulations such as DMCA had been imposed on small, independent recording companies in the 50's. Suppose that the government and dominant forces in the recording industry had prevented Sam Phillips from undertaking the unheard of project of recording and promoting a white kid from Tupelo Mississippi who sang Negro music. Where would our culture be now if that had been allowed to happen?

Unlike radio broadcasting, webcasting presents our culture to the rest of the world. It is our opportunity to show the world that our musical experience consists of much more than Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. Do we want this stifled?

Please do what you can to help prevent the theft of this new though very important venue for our cultural heritage. Thank you.

Your Voting Constituent,
John Walker

Information Links

RAIN - Radio and Internet Newletter

Salon - Web Radio's Last Stand

Save Radio Paradise

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