A war of words has erupted between Australia’s commercial radio and the music copyright industries after hundreds of regional stations turned off their digital simulcasts to avoid extra licensing fees.
On Friday, January 21 more than 200 local regional stations shut down their internet simulcasting services to avoid the interim licence scheme, which would see them charged an additional fee for playing music in their digital broadcasts.
The Phonographic Performance Company of Australia (PPCA) has labelled the move ‘disappointing’ and rejected Commercial Radio Australia’s (CRA) assertions the scheme results in “double-dipping”.
The switch off may move into Australia’s cities with according to a CRA statement which said “local commercial metropolitan radio stations are reviewing their position on a weekly basis and also may switch off in the future”.
The row is on the back of long-running legal dispute which erupted in 2010 when the PPCA took the commercial radio industry to Federal Court to change the rule that said radio simulcasts were part of a radio station’s broadcast. The PPCA lost but then won an appeal in 2013 based on the fact the term ‘broadcast’ does not cover radio simulcasts. The determination opened radio stations up to an additional fee for the content they have already payed for.
The PPCA’s position:
The PPCA said it is “disappointed” by CRA’s decision to “deprive regional listeners of local programming”.
“It is disheartening to PPCA to see that, despite the extensive negotiations and considerable concessions made to reach a reasonable and commercial interim arrangement, some of CRA’s members have instead elected to shut down their internet simulcasting services.
“Last year the High Court of Australia confirmed what every other country takes for granted – that the internet simulcast right is a separate right that needs to be paid for by commercial radio.”
The PPCA rejected the notion that the scheme will result in “double dipping” and added: “CRA also conveniently ignores the fact that currently its members have the benefit of a broadcast licence fee calculated on the basis of a statutory licence fee cap which has not been revised since 1969.”
The PPCA likened its aims to that of a sporting code or content industry “which has a traditional and digital revenue stream”.
Commercial Radio’s standpoint:
CRA argued on Friday that the PPCA scheme would be prohibitive and result in “significant financial costs”.
“Exact online simulcasts themselves do not attract additional revenue,” Joan Warner, chief executive of CRA, said.
If the PPCA’s final scheme is approved by the Copyright Tribunal Warner said “radio broadcasters are concerned that simulcast fees may be back dated to the start of the interim licence and financial liability amassed by radio stations would be cost prohibitive, particularly for regional stations”.
“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,” Warner said a statement yesterday.
"Let’s be clear that commercial radio stations already pay a fee to the record companies for the music we play. In addition, we pay copyright fees to the composers’ collecting body. Aside from the two lots of copyright fees we already pay for music played, we pay a spectrum licence fee to the Government for our broadcast licence, we are heavily regulated, we have local content requirements and high transmission costs for the broadcasts.”