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January 6, 2009

ULM professor quoted in New York Times

Many college campuses operate a student-run radio station, the kind that typically caters to small audiences who share an eclectic taste in music. But few campuses offer the distinction of being among the first to send their signal over the Internet.

Joel Willer is general manager of KXUL-FM, which streams live on the Web at from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. The station has been streaming for a decade now, long before most broadcasters realized the challenge the Internet would pose to traditional broadcasting.

Willer was quoted in a recent New York Times article about logs that show listeners from as far away as Sri Lanka and Australia have found KXUL on the Web. But even before the Times contacted him, Willer has been quietly leading the fight against what he and his colleagues feel are unreasonable copyright royalty fees demanded by the music industry.

His efforts to ensure college radio would always be able to reach an Internet audience have garnered the attention of many national publications, among them, The Los Angeles Times, Wired,, Radio World and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Many college stations ended their Webcasts in anticipation of the royalty fees and expensive, federal record-keeping requirements, but so far, KXUL has not joined the hundreds of commercial and noncommercial stations that have been silenced.

At its peak, between 500 and 600 college radio stations played music over the Web. After the uncertainty over royalty fees, that number was initially roughly halved, Willer said.

Willer said the fees for Webcasting are especially out of line. “It's higher than the broadcast fees for a lower quality and a smaller audience,” he said.

The fees are the result of a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 that states that the recording industry and artists should be compensated for music played over the Internet. Willer and his colleague at Rice University, Will Robedee, believe that broadcasters shouldn't have to pay the record industry and the performers because the record labels depend on radio to drum up sales.

Willer has provided written and oral testimony before the federal Copyright Royalty Judges, a part of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to help establish the present webcasting copyright royalty rates. He and Robedee have lobbied to Congress to change the fees and other log-keeping requirements, stating that a flat rate of about $200 per year would be fair for all parties. Willer and Robedee expect to again participate in new arbitration recently authorized by Congress under the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, signed into law by President Bush in October.

As for the future of college radio in the Internet age, Willer said it would continue to exist. “In what format, who knows? But it will always serve a purpose,” he said.

Click here to view the New York Times article.

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