Friday, April 27, 2007

America Last – pushing the best parts of our culture and innovation overseas!

Jesse Helms and Me

Jesse Helms and I often find ourselves on the opposite side of an issue, so, when we find ourselves in agreement I have great confidence that anyone who disagrees is wrong. Many of these issues are ones that reasonable people can disagree on. For example, when people argue about stem cell research the argument pretty much boils down to ethics vs. economic loss. We all know that other countries are willing and eager to conduct the research and we’ll end up losing business, jobs, and technological advantage to those countries – however, whether you believe America should allow stem cell research or not, there’s at least a plausible argument that those are acceptable losses in order to better society. The arguments for disallowing gambling (either on-line, or in a state) are similar – once again we as a society may think that losing business to other areas of the world is acceptable because of the negative societal costs of gambling.

The United States is now faced with losing the creative and economic benefits of a nascent Internet Radio industry – but in this case there’s no plausible argument that this is for the good of society. Even Jesse and I agree on this one! The last time it came up Jesse Helms spearheaded the legislation that put an end to the foolishness and saved Internet radio.

The Background

By our count, the US currently accounts for about 8000 internet radio stations--around 40% of all stations. The vast majority of those are the equivalent of ham radio operators – i.e. do it yourself’ers who make no money but are passionate about music. This decision will effectively silence their creative voice or (more likely) force those stations to switch to foreign servers and ISPs.

Why should this be the case? While the details and history of the regulatory scheme were outlined on Monday, I think this is a simple example of a regulatory board getting confused about what their role is. Copyright law, in general, is intended to promote the betterment of society by allowing creative works to thrive. The CRB, however, has lost sight of this and believes their sole purpose in life is to line the pockets of copyright owners.

Copyright owners (in this case music labels) are monopolies – their goal is to make as much money as possible. Good for them, I say - but they shouldn’t believe that the copyright law gives them blanket license to do so. Once again, the law is there for the benefit of the public. I can’t see any way in which the public is helped by silencing the creative voices of stations (and losing jobs, services, and technological innovation) or forcing them to find safe havens in foreign lands. The CRB’s mandate is that it can only look at “economic” factors in making it’s decisions – unfortunately, they didn’t look at any of the economic impact (either short or long term) on America. Moreover, in their motions for rehearing, many of the radio stations pointed out the mistakes the CRB made in its own economic analysis. No regulatory agency of this country should ever forget where they are and whose best interests they serve – the American public’s. With a little prodding chances are that Congress will step in, and we should let our representatives know that it’s a mistake to put America last.

As we mentioned on Monday, the best thing you can do to keep Internet radio alive is to tell members of Congress how you feel. This is your chance to let them know how important Internet radio is to real Americans. Email and call them! For more details on how you can help, go to

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