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And The Beat Goes On(line)

In a victory for Internet music broadcasters, the government on Thursday decided that songs delivered online will be charged royalty fees at a rate that is half of what was originally proposed by an arbitration panel.

Webcasters will be charged at a rate that amounts to 70 cents per song for each one thousand listeners, the U.S. Copyright Office announced on its Web site.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who oversees the Copyright Office, found that the original proposal that set a higher rate for Internet-only programs than the radio rate "was arbitrary and not supported by the record of evidence," said spokeswoman Jill Brett.

In May, Billington rejected a government panel's rate proposal, up to $1.40 per song heard by one thousand listeners. That was double the rate for broadcasts sent out simultaneously on radio and the Internet.

Opponents to Thursday's ruling can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit within 30 days. The court could modify or set aside the decision if it finds the ruling was highly unreasonable.

Internet radio, either simulcasts of traditional over-the-air radio or Internet-only stations streamed through the Internet to computers, is becoming more popular as people get high-speed connections at home.

Webcasters said the rates initially proposed were too high and would cost larger Internet radio broadcasters hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, more than they get from advertising or listener contributions. Many webcasters said the fees, which would be retroactive to 1998, would force them to shut down.

The record industry had sought higher royalties, saying more was needed to compensate artists and music labels for using their songs.

Webcasters, as well as over-the-air radio stations, already pay composers and music publishers royalties for the music they play, based typically on a percentage of their revenues.

But traditional radio broadcasters have been exempt from paying the royalties for each song played -- the standard that is now being applied to webcasters. Broadcasters successfully argued before lawmakers that they already were promoting the music.

After the recording industry failed to impose those new royalties on traditional broadcasters, the industry turned to webcasters, and a 1998 law granted the industry its wish.

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