Senate passes Webcaster Settlement Act

There may be light at the end of the tunnel for Internet radio fans.

The Senate passed the Webcaster Settlement Act on Tuesday, which enables Internet streamers to negotiate lower rates with SoundExchange and the RIAA.

The bill sailed though the House on Saturday, and is now headed to President Bush’s desk for signature. It allows SoundExchange to negotiate with Webcasters through 2015 and keeps them running while Congress is in recess. If the bill is signed (which is likely), the rates would be set retroactive back to 2006 (before the Copyright Royalty Board hiked them in 2007) and allow a framework that would resolve future disputes through 2015.

Webcasters have said the current royalty rates are too high for them to make a profit – so high it could put many of them out of business.

The bill had some rather strange alliances and distractors: The RIAA was actually on the side with Pandora and Webcasters to keep the bill afloat while the National Association of Broadcasters – which had opposed the recent Sirius/XM merger – said the bill was unfair to terrestrial radio broadcasters. The NAB later dropped its opposition.

Keep in mind this bill does not guarantee a settlement between the Webcasters and the RIAA and Sound Exchange. They now have until February 15 to reach a deal.