Webcaster Bill Stalled in Senate

Legislation establishing royalties to be paid by small webcasters is stalled in the US Senate until after the November elections.

The bill codifies rates already agreed to by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Voice of the Webcasters (VOW) organization, and was unanimously approved by the US House of Representatives on October 7. Its future is now in doubt after North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms placed a "hold" on it October 17, effective until after the Senate reconvenes on November 12, after elections. A hold is an informal delay.

Helms was the third senator to stall the bill, following Kansas Republican Sam Brownback and California Democrat Diane Feinstein. Earlier in the week, Brownback expressed concerns that the bill might set a precedent for other royalty legislation; Feinstein's hold was lifted after she determined that musicians had agreed to the deal, which sets royalty rates for small webcasters at a lower level than those specified in a decree by Librarian of Congress James Billington.

Several reports from Washington indicated that Helms acted at the behest of religious broadcasters. The delay could doom passage of the bill, which must be approved by both House and Senate in an identical form before being signed into law by the President.

RIAA chairman and CEO Hilary Rosen expressed her organization's dismay at the situation. "We are surprised and disappointed the small webcast legislation was not passed as expected by the Senate Thursday night," she said. "We hope the senators will work this out quickly. All parties interested in this legislation should contact the senators and urge passage of the bill."