Spinning Gold


The twist would be delicious if it weren't so very predictable: Record companies are trying to define the copyrights for digital media in such a way that they won't have to pay for them.

Yes. The same folks who scream bloody murder at the very thought that someone, somewhere might download a song for free do not, in turn, want to pay royalties to music publishers.

Music publishing rights are very different from the recording rights that record companies own. They are, in fact, about the only sure way songwriters have of getting paid. But the Recording Industry Association of America has told the U.S. Copyright Office that it's just too much trouble to track down all the publishers whose music might be used in a recording company's streaming audio broadcast.

This effort builds on the record industry's successful rewrite of copyright laws to shift the payments of royalties from publishers (as is the case for analog radio) to the record companies (as is the case for digital radio). Even Web simulcasts of over-the-air radio have to pay the record companies. Needless to say, Net broadcasters aren't pleased with this. "I think the RIAA is a bunch of greedy, shortsighted idiots," Bill Goldsmith, Web director of simulcast pioneer KPIG, told Wired News.

This mess was caused by bad law enacted by a Congress fully under the sway of industry lobbyists, so only new law can fix it. Expecting the Copyright Office to set things straight is just too much to ask when such fundamental issues as who has a right to what are involved.