Internet-only broadcasters may be assessed into extinction, despite popularity which often wraps around the world.
Hawaii's two better-known Webcasters are former radio personalities Robert Abbett, best known as "Rabbett," on Oahu and Maui's L.D. Reynolds. They're fighting for their livelihoods and anxiously await a May 21 review in Washington, D.C., which will determine their fate.
Pending before the U.S. Copyright Office are fee recommendations from its Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel that the Webcasters say will wipe them from the face of the ether by charging them potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Reputable Webcasters pay licensing fees to music publishers; the fees can range to more than $1,000. Restaurants, bars and other establishments using music as part of their business are also required to pay.
Neither Abbett nor Reynolds makes a regular profit from the sites they maintain. Rabbett's Internet Radio Hawaii, at irh.com, is listener-supported, while Reynolds sells some advertising and only recently began soliciting listener support on his site, HawaiianJamz.com.
"If it puts food on the table and beer in the fridge then we're totally happy. Anything over breaking even is gravy," Reynolds said.
Proposed new "performance rights" fees would be paid to members of the Recording Industry Association of America, largely made up of major record labels.
These separate fees are set forth in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed by Congress in 1998. According to the Copyright Office Web site, radio stations streaming AM or FM broadcast signals would pay 7 cents per song played while Internet-only broadcasters would be charged 14 cents. Noncommercial broadcasters would pay smaller fees of 2 cents or 5 cents per play.
SaveInternetRadio.org, by "Radio And Internet Newsletter" Publisher Kurt Hanson, says the recommended rates are "more than 100 percent of most Webcasters' gross revenues."
In a March 13 letter to the Library of Congress Office of the General Counsel, Rep. Patsy Mink expressed concern about imposition of the proposed rates on this "exciting new form of broadcasting," comparing the beginnings of the industry to the early days of radio.
"The proposed rules, fee structures and logging requirements will stop this fledgling medium of broadcasting dead in its tracks," she said.
Several members of Congress have followed Mink's lead, Abbett said.
"Before, you had to come to Hawaii to hear Hawaiian music," Reynolds said. The Internet has taken it "to its rightful place in the world beat community."
Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.
Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached