Internet Radio & Digital Millennium Copyright Act: When Copyright works against culture access

The US Millennium Copyright Act approved in 1998 has caused severe limits to internet radios, since it has set very high royalty payments for the web based stations playing recorded music. According to this law, internet radios can’t distribute music without a special license, which must be negotiated case to case in a process that can last for years (Kuhn) and what is more from 2007 (with a retroactive effect to 2006) internet radios instead of paying a percentage of gross royalties, as cable and satellite radios do, had to pay a disjoint fee per listener and per song. This fact has led to significant issues for a large number of internet radios making streamed programming uneconomic (Wall) since, depending on the audience, “the royalty increase for most small webcasters could possibly reach as high as 1,200 percent of revenues” (Myers). The reasons which underlies this policies has to be found in the fear that broadcasts discourage record sales and in the piracy consequences that downloadable podcasts could determine.

The first issue I’d like to highlight relates to media policies effects. According to Clark, copyright became controversial precisely because of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Indeed it “created a new feature in copyright law that determined the overreaching nature of it” mainly because of the Digital Rights Management Systems (DRMS) which encompass technological means used to identify and to control access to or use of digital data or hardware. Fisher, and this is a largely confirmed thesis by the radio related press, argued that “SoundExchange wants webcasters to adopt DRMS in exchange for better rates. Weathley points out that “copyright law encourages authors to create and share so that society may benefit from their works”, however “DRMS not only seek to preempt copyright infringement, but also prevent a consumer from using a work of authorship in a manner permitted by law” creating boundaries that limit access to culture and thus to music. Such media policies are overreaching their function hurting the respect of the “balance of authors’ interests and broader societal interests” (Weathley; Foroughi & others). These boundaries “seem to show the same restricted protectionism that have been applied to all technological innovations” (Wall, 2003) affecting the development of cultural practices that engage with heritage, identity and meaning.

For example Van der Hoeven examined the identities that are constituted by the narrative of pirate radio and in his research has shown how the internet provides platforms to engage with this heritage and thus to maintain these local identities. Moreover the internet also enabled to trans-local orientation. Indeed, the guestbooks on the internet radio’s websites show that Dutch people who have emigrated use streams to keep the ties to their birthplaces alive. This study reveals also that old and new media converge gradually. However, this convergence, in the U.S. has been widely limited for a large number of radios and a good example relates to the college radios, that because of the DMCA couldn’t afford the high costs related to the royalties and only rarely have survived on the web. College radios are significantly present in the American cultural narratives which began almost a century ago and which developed affirming an alternative and subcultural discourse (not firmly definable as a Wall’s study shows) in the radio production culture (Baker), which provides the diffusion of new music not transmitted by the traditional or mainstream radio stations. This cultural diversity could be broadcast over the internet giving to these different cultural practices the possibility to be appreciated on a global scale rather than a local, but at the moment policies like the DMCA show a “misunderstanding of the present an likely future of music consumption” while, as asserted by Baltzis, a more deep analysis of how the cultures of production are changing because of the internet is needed, confirming a wide lack in the studies about music practices in radio stations.


Kuhn, F. (2001) “The local and global radio: flow,reverse flow and cultural identity on the Internet.” available at ;

Wall, T. (2005). “The political economy of internet music radio.” The Radio Journal 2(1);

Myers, K. (2009). “The RIIA, the DMCA, and the forgotten few webcasters: A call for change in digital copyright royalties.” Federal Communications Law Journal, 61(2): 431-456.

Drew, C., (2002). “How Copyright became controversial.”  Conference on Computers, Freedom and Privacy pp. 1-10. Available at:

Fisher, K. (2007) “DiMA: SoundExchange is leveraging absurd fees to push DRM on web radio”

Weathley, C.T. (2008) “Overreaching T echnological Means for Protection of Copyright : I dentif ying the Limits of Copyright in Works in Digital F orm in the United States and the United Kingdom.” Washington University Global Studies Law Review, 7(2) 353-371;

Foroughi A. Albin M. and Gillard S. (2002) ,”Digital rights management: a delicate balance between protection and accessibility”, Journal of Information Science; 28 (5), p.389-95.

Wall, T., (2003) “Studying Popular Music Culture” (Studying the Media Series) Hodder Education. Media, Culture & Society, 34(8), p. 927-943.

van der Hoeven, A. (2012), “The popular music heritage of the Dutch pirates: illegal radio and cultural identity”. Media, Culture & Society, 34(8) p. 927-943.

Wall, T. (2007). “Finding an alternative: Music programming in US college radio.” The Radio Journal 5(1): 35-54.

Baker, A. (2010), Rewieving Net-Only College Radio: A case study of Brookling College Radio, Journal of Radio & Audio Media, 17:1, 109-125

Baltzis, A, (2009), Subversive technologies: web radios and cultural change,Internationa conference Radio content in the Digital Age, Limassol, October 2009.

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