US lawmakers poised to pass internet radio legislation

The US Congress is close to passing legislation that would buy extra time to finalize an agreement intended to save the emerging internet radio market from a crippling hike in copyright royalty rates, an Associated Press report said.

The House unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., that would greenlight an anticipated agreement between Webcasters and SoundExchange, a nonprofit that collects royalties on behalf of recording copyright owners and artists from internet radio stations and other digital radio services, the report said.

The two sides have been negotiating new copyright royalty rates following a federal Copyright Royalty Board ruling in March of 2007 that dramatically increased the rates that internet radio stations must pay artists and record labels. internet radio stations say the new rates _ which most but not all are paying _ would effectively put them out of business.

After months of talks, Webcasters and SoundExchange have recently moved closer to a deal. But because internet radio companies operate under a government license, any final agreement needs congressional authorization. And with Congress preparing to adjourn at least until after the elections _ and possibly until next year _ lawmakers probably will not be around to provide approval when an accord is reached.

Inslee's bill would enable the two sides to continue negotiations through February 15 and make any deal struck while Congress is in recess legally binding.

The bill would provide congressional approval for any agreements that SoundExchange reaches with Webcasters represented by the Digital Media Association, a trade group made up of companies that operate in the online audio and video market, and with other types of Webcasters, such as National Public Radio, college or religious Webcasters.