Community radio will not end online simulcasts, but the ABC says it has to “consider carefully” future of streaming

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Image: Fod Tzellos/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Image: Fod Tzellos/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Great news if you are fans of FBi Radio in Sydney, or SYN FM in Melbourne. Community radio broadcasters have confirmed that they will not be shutting down their online simulcasts – unlike their regional commercial counterparts – despite their opposition to having separate licences for internet broadcasts.

Until a new licence has been negotiated… the existing arrangement will continue

In a message to its members, the Community Broadcasters Association of Australia said, “We have confirmed with the PPCA that CBAA members who are currently streaming can continue to do so while the CBAA and PPCA are discussing the terms of a simulcast licence for CBAA members, should one be required.”

In other words, until a new licence has been negotiated between the CBAA and PPCA, the existing arrangement will continue.

However, while the CBAA is willing to negotiate with the PPCA in the mean time, they are also asking – like its commercial rivals – Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to issue a declaration that would classify “internet broadcasts” as a broadcasting service under the Broadcasting Act. A Federal Court decision issued in February last year that ruled that internet simulcasts did not meet the definition of a “broadcast” under the Copyright Act, and therefore their existing royalty arrangement did not cover internet broadcasts and simulcasts.

If Turnbull does issue a declaration, then it would mean the PPCA will not be able to receive additional royalties from internet simulcasts.

The ABC: We need to “consider carefully its ability to deliver services”

Like everyone in the industry, he ABC has said that they also don’t believe in having two royalty arrangements – one for radio broadcasts, and another for internet simulcasts.

“While the ABC respects the rights of copyright owners, we do not believe that they should be able to charge broadcasters twice for the simultaneous use of the same copyright material available through a range of devices. No single listener can listen to two devices simultaneously; they are either listening to a radio or listening online,” Jane Conners, ABC Radio’s Head of Industry Policy and Strategy, told RadioInfo on Thursday.

“The ABC has a range of concerns around… an inevitable, significant increase in the cost of music rights”

“If an exact online simulcast of a free to air broadcast were to be considered separately from that broadcast, the ABC has a range of concerns around copyright clearance and protection, the impact of multiple regulatory regimes, the principles of net neutrality, and an inevitable, significant increase in the cost of music rights.”

Conners also told RadioInfo that the ABC will need to “consider carefully its ability to deliver its services” if the government upholds the decision to have an additional royalty licence for internet simulcasts. According to RadioInfo, Conners refused to elaborate more on this.

However, logically speaking, the ABC has to take one of two options – continue simulcasts and bear the brunt of increased royalties (with taxpayers dollars), or stop online simulcasts of all of its music related stations like Dig Music, Classic FM, and Triple J. We’re assuming that they won’t be dropping local radio due to its emergency broadcasting commitments.

The ABC is not alone in viewing that the new internet simulcast royalties would increase costs that they cannot afford. Regional commercial radio stations cited this as their main reason to go dark and end their simulcasts on January 31.

“Should the PPCA (the peak music body) be successful in having the Tribunal endorse their preferred high cost scheme, radio broadcasters are concerned that simulcast fees may be back dated to the start of the interim licence and the financial liability amassed by radio stations would be cost prohibitive, particularly for regional stations,” the peak body for commercial broadcasters, Commercial Radio Australia, said in a statement.

The PPCA, however, rejects this and says they want to give artists a “fair share”.

“The billion dollar commercial radio industry has enjoyed the advantages of expanding into online markets by simulcasting their broadcasts, but has ignored its obligations to recompense those who create the content they rely on,” it said. “What PPCA is seeking is no different to every other major Australian sporting code or content industry which has a traditional and digital revenue stream.”

The CRA issued another statement earlier last week, countering the statements made by PPCA. It notes that radio stations already pay a fee to record companies and the composer’s collecting body for the music, pay a spectrum licence fee to broadcast and notes that they have “high transmission costs” and local content requirements to fulfil.

“Regional commercial radio stations are not as the PPCA describes a “billion dollar commercial radio industry”.  They are locally run, are integral parts of their local communities and provide local news, information and entertainment to communities,” Joan Warner, the CEO of CRA, said in a statement.

It also notes that in the United States, radio broadcasters don’t have to pay additional royalties for internet simulcasts.