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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Singapore’s web radio services go offline over royalty issue

A dispute over licence fees has forced most of Singapore’s radio stations to stop streaming online.

Following an amendment to the Copyright Act last November, the Recording Industry Performance Singapore (RIPS) asked radio broadcasters to pay an annual licensing fee if they wanted to continue their Internet radio service.

Currently, over-the-air radio stations are exempted from having to pay royalties to record companies. The November amendment, though, clarified that this exemption did not extend to Internet streaming services.

Because of this, said RIPS general manager Barbara Wong, broadcasters need to obtain “licences to continue their Internet streaming, just as their counterparts in many other jurisdictions are required to.”

She declined to elaborate as “these friendly negotiations are still ongoing.”

Last week, though, MediaCorp and Safra Radio suspended the Internet streaming of their radio stations. MediaCorp runs more than a dozen radio stations, including Class 95 and Yes 93.3; Safra Radio operates two, Power98 and 88.3 Jia.

A MediaCorp spokesman said it is “still continuing with our negotiations with RIPS... . The service will be resumed if we can come to an agreement.”

Safra Radio did not reply by press time, but a notice on its website said that “Internet streaming of Power98FM is no longer available until further notice.”

For now, SPH UnionWorks’ Radio 91.3 and Radio 100.3 stations remain online. A UnionWorks spokesman declined to comment, citing ongoing negotiations.

A source familiar with the issue here told The Straits Times that one of the main stumbling blocks is the five-figure sum per station each year that RIPS wants. If RIPS and the broadcasters cannot reach an agreement, the broadcasters may simply stop their Internet radio services for good.

No statistics are available on the popularity of Internet radio with Singapore audiences, but according to a 2008 American study, 13% of Americans aged 12 and above listen to Internet radio every week, up from 11% in 2007. -- ANN/ The Straits Times


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