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The recording industry appears to be backing away from a proposal that would require Webcasters to provide detailed information about their listeners to copyright owners. On April 5, the Recording Industry Association of America dropped its request that the U.S. Copyright Office force Internet radio operators to collect data not required of their traditional broadcasting brethren. But privacy advocates, who have raised a ruckus over the idea, are still worried federal officials may slip the provision into a revised regulation governing subscription digital audio services. “It’s nice to say ‘sorry, we didn’t mean it,’ but because of their proposal, it’s in the Copyright Office’s proposed regulation,” said Fred von Lohmann, a senior IP attorney at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. The proposal would require Internet broadcasters to collect information such as the date and time users listen to digital transmissions and the region where they log on. Privacy groups say this would be an unprecedented invasion of listener privacy. “This is the first time in the history of broadcast media where broadcasters would be required to collect user information,” von Lohmann said. “Not only is it unprecedented, it’s totally without justification.” Among other things, Webcasters would have to provide a so-called listener log, including the date and time the user of the service logged in and out, the time zone of the place at which the user received the transmission, and the country in which the user received the transmission. The user would also have a unique user identifier assigned to a particular user or session. The Copyright Office said in a Feb. 7 notice of the proposal that the RIAA had requested the listener’s log of information. The office said the request “seemed reasonably based on the premise that the copyright owners need certain specific information to monitor compliance” with its terms of use. “In support of its request for the detailed information, RIAA argues that the information it seeks from the services is ‘easily provided, not burdensome, and in fact, is currently provided by a number of licensees who have obtained licenses with the RIAA and/or Sound Exchange,’” the Copyright Office stated. The agency received numerous objections to the proposal, including letters from U.S. Reps. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii, and Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and a joint submission by the EFF, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Fresno Free College Foundation in Fresno, Calif., Fresno’s KFCF Radio and Berkeley, Calif.’s KPFA Radio. That outcry prompted the RIAA to drop its request for listener information. “The RIAA has heard the complaints raised by Webcasters and has responded by proposing record-keeping regulations that take into account many of the Webcasters’ concerns,” RIAA Senior Vice President Steven Marks said in a statement. “For example, RIAA has simplified its proposal by dropping the listener log, which resulted in considerable confusion and criticism.” In addition to the user information, Webcasters also object to other recordkeeping requirements not imposed on traditional broadcasters. Costs are also a factor. Von Lohmann said small community stations like KFCF are ready to pay a royalty to license copyrighted material, which he said would probably cost $500 per year. But additional record-keeping would cost stations an additional $10,000 or more. “Gathering 25 pieces of information for every song played to every listener is not trivial,” he said. The new rule would amend previous interim regulations to conform to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 and the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act of 1995. The Copyright Office is in the midst of taking public comment on the matter. The comment period ends April 26.

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