In an open letter to musicians published last week, XM Radio affirms its respect for artists and responds to criticism from the recording industry. Last month, several recording companies sued XM Radio for producing a satellite radio receiver with recording functionality, contradicting the RIAA’s previously stated position regarding satellite radio recording devices.
RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol contends that XM’s new recording device threatens legitimate music downloading services by enabling “broadcast programs to be automatically captured and then disaggregated, song by song, into a massive library of music.” In the open letter, XM Executive Vice President Eric Logan argues that the Inno and Helix satellite radio recorders are merely time-shifting devices like Tivo rather than piracy tools. Logan points out that the new devices do not enable users to duplicate, redistribute, or permanently preserve downloaded content, and that the service itself doesn’t enable users to select which songs are played.
The open letter also responds to Bainwol’s claim that XM’s devices are “fundamentally unfair to songwriters and labels” by clarifying the parameters of the company’s financial relationship with the music industry. According to the letter, “the satellite radio industry is the single largest contributor of sound recording performance royalties to artists and record labels.” The letter explains that XM and other satellite radio companies are paying tens of millions in performance royalties. The letter also points out that satellite radio services directly benefit artists by promoting music purchases.
As the Consumer Electronics Association has pointed out, FM radio and the cassette tape were both once subjected to similar attacks by the recording industry. The RIAA’s hollow criticisms of satellite radio sound a lot like the music industry’s typical alarmist attitude towards technological innovation. That said, is there reason to be skeptical about XM’s claims regarding the capabilities of the new devices? History shows us that it is usually only a matter of time before even the most elaborately protected content system is cracked. Although XM has intentionally chosen not to include a mechanism for copying music from their devices to a computer, enterprising users will probably find a way to adapt the technology.