On 6/16/2012 NPR’s All songs Considered blog posted an article by NPR intern Emily White where the author discusses her desire and associated reasoning for “one massive Spotify-like catalog of music that will sync to my phone and various home entertainment devices.” Oh, she also chronicles thousands of personal instances of music piracy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all hell broke loose and folks have been peeling off into pro and con camps ever since (as of now, the latter outweighs the former).
The vast majority of feedback has focused on the hot button issues of music piracy, free culture philosophy, and loads of venom directed toward White and NPR for what has been described as callous and irresponsible actions. All of these are worthwhile topics and will likely be examined for quite some time, but not here.
Instead, one aspect in Ms. White’s article that is getting overlooked amidst the heated exchanges is one which carries the greatest potential for immediate action. Apparently, Ms. White obtained a great deal of her pirated music from the music library at WVAU, the American University radio station where she has been working as a student DJ.
During my first semester at college, my music library more than tripled. I spent hours sitting on the floor of my college radio station, ripping music onto my laptop. The walls were lined with hundreds of albums sent by promo companies and labels to our station over the years.
This admission was simply stunning and although my knowledge about radio stations and use of music from their libraries is not all-inclusive, common sense dictated that was likely a big no-no. So in order to find out how things work at radio stations and what sort of responsibilities are involved, I went to the source and asked the following questions:
- What sort of responsibilities do radio stations have for preventing illegal copying?
- Are there employee orientation sessions to discuss what is and isn’t illegal, is the station liable, etc?
STEVE ROBINSON; EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & GENERAL MANAGER 98.7WFMT & THE WFMT RADIO NETWORK
[sws_pullquote_right]…many of the recordings in our library are sent to us for no charge by record companies …and allowing staff to make copies of those recordings for personal use wouldn’t be right. [/sws_pullquote_right] Before I get into the issue of a radio station allowing staff to rip CD’s for personal use, I should point out that WFMT and the WFMT Radio Network adhere scrupulously to all rights issues relating to recordings, published music and the rights of musicians. For example, when we put together compilations of music from commercial recordings to use as pledge drive premiums, we work closely with whatever labels are involved; we’re careful to check with publishers in cases where royalties need to be paid; when we video/audio stream one of our Immersion Day programs we obtain rights to any recordings that require it; and we always check with the Chicago Federation of Musicians whenever we have a question about the proper fee to pay members of their union.
Now, with regard to the question at hand, while WFMT doesn’t have a written policy about copying recordings for private use, I highly doubt that has happened to any significant degree. I’ve certainly never observed anyone on our staff doing it. But now that the issue has gained such prominence because of the blog by the NPR intern, we’ll put such a policy in place: many of the recordings in our library are sent to us for no charge by record companies for the sole purpose of broadcasting on our airwaves and allowing staff to make copies of those recordings for personal use wouldn’t be right.
JACK ALLEN; PRESIDENT & CEO, ALL CLASSICAL PUBLIC MEDIA, INC.
I checked in with allclassical.org’s FCC attorney, Melodie Virtue, and our own music director, John Pitman for a reaction to the Emily White NPR blog you cited. I received this information, below. Additionally, we are altering our new employee orientation policy accordingly. Good topic and great discussion.
MELODIE VIRTUE; FCC ATTORNEY, ALL CLASSICAL PUBLIC MEDIA, INC.
If a station received promotional CDs and gives the physical copy of the CD away, that’s ok. That was the subject in the case of UMG v. Augusto in the 9th Circuit that came out in February of 2011. Augusto was re-selling promo CDs on e-Bay, and UMG was arguing they owned the CDs and the radio stations only had a license to use the CDs. The court disagreed and said the CDs were a gift and that the doctrine of first sale applied because ownership of the physical copy had transferred.
Thus, the recipient of the CDs from UMG could do want they wanted with that physical copy, just like anyone who buys a CD or a book can sell it to someone else.
Transferring the sound recording on the CD to another medium like a laptop is different. That is a reproduction of the copyrighted work that is within the exclusive control of the copyright owner. In contrast, the Augusto case did not involve copying – merely transferring the same physical copy from one owner to another.
[sws_pullquote_right]To the extent that the station facilitates or turns a blind eye toward unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted works, the station could be liable for contributory infringement. [/sws_pullquote_right] To the extent that the station facilitates or turns a blind eye toward unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted works, the station could be liable for contributory infringement. That’s how Grokster and Napster and all those early file sharing services got into trouble – they enabled and facilitated the infringement.
Copyright piracy is a criminal office. Not only are there significant monetary damages (up to $150,000 in statutory damages for willful infringement per copy), in severe cases the infringer could go to jail/prison for up to 10 years.
Training new hires on copyright infringement would be a factor in your defense if an employee or volunteer copies your library without your consent. Of course, you need to enforce the policy, too.
JOHN PITMAN; MUSIC DIRECTOR, ALL CLASSICAL PUBLIC MEDIA, INC.
…this does not mean that I condone everything that Ms White admits to doing. When she says that she ripped thousands of songs from the station library, well, that’s stealing. She wasn’t paying for a service like Kazaa; she took material sent to the radio station on the agreement that the station would broadcast it to its listeners. Every “promotional copy” stipulates that no copying is to take place. That applies to Ms. White as it does to you and me.
Given the feedback from the above authorities above, it appears that WVAU may have a serious issue on its hands regarding Ms. White’s activities as described in her NPR blog post. Currently, Ms. White is listed as a WVAU Music Director and has a DJ page with a description of her radio program.
In order to discover more about how American University is dealing with these issues, I contacted American University to identify an administrator and/or faculty member responsible for overseeing the student radio station. According to the university, the person overseeing student activities at WVAU is Adjunct Professorial Lecturer Adell Crowe, who also serves as Coordinator for Student Media Communications.
I wrote to Ms. Crowe asking if there is any sort of orientation program for new student DJs that addresses issues of legal and ethical use of station recordings. Likewise, I asked Ms. Crowe if there are any measures in place to prevent illegal copying and whether Ms. White will be allowed to continue in any capacity with WVAU.
According to American University, Ms. Crowe is out of the office until 7/2/2012 but any reply and/or statement she provides will be published in a follow-up article.
It’s doubtful that the online debate over the future of music distribution will subside anytime soon nor will the pro/con discussions of Ms. White’s blog post, but that doesn’t mean folks aren’t paying attention to less subjective issues. For instance, it is difficult to discount the herculean efforts by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) that included vigorous pursuit of individuals and organizations accused of music piracy and illegal file sharing by means of lawsuits.
At this time, it is unknown if the RIAA or any of its individual members will attempt to exercise legal action against WVAU or any specific parties related in this situation is unknown.
Additional Resources; AKA All Hell Breaking Loose
- Comment thread to Ms. White’s blog post at NPR
- The darkness of ignorance: Frank Almond; non divisi
- Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered: David Clowery; The Trichordist – Artists For An Ethical Internet
- Emily White Killed Vic Chesnutt: Alex Sayf Cummings; TROPICS OF META
- Emily White, David Lowery And The Future Of Music Consumption: Leor Galil; Forbes