UK Licensing Rules Slam Lid On Pandora's Box

Dennis Faas's picture

The Pandora Internet radio service will stop broadcasting to British listeners after the 15 January thanks to a dispute over royalty payments.

The site plays music based on the listener's favourite artists or tracks. It analyses songs for musical styles, pace, tone and instrument to find similarities between tracks. Users can give a thumbs up or thumbs down to each song they hear (similar to the way TiVo works), decisions that directly affect what new songs will be played in future. The idea is to create a radio station customized for the individual listener.

In the United States, licensing for such sites is covered by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, but this doesn't cover broadcasts to listeners in other countries. Pandora originally broadcast worldwide but from May last year access was limited to the United States and United Kingdom. Pandora's management hoped to negotiate a licensing deal for British listeners but have failed to reach an agreement.

According to Pandora, the groups which represent musicians and publishers in the UK are demanding excessively high royalties for each time a track is played. (Source: Founder Tim Westergren wrote to UK listeners, "It continues to astound me and the rest of the team here that the industry is not working more constructively to support the growth of services that introduce listeners to new music and that are totally supportive of paying fair royalties to the creators of music."

A spokesman for the licensing groups said royalty rates had been set by an independent panel. (Source:

Some UK listeners may find they are unaffected. The site detects a listener's location via their IP (Internet protocol) address which theoretically identifies an individual computer. However, many broadband services run through a proxy system, by which a new IP address is assigned to an Internet user each time they access the Internet. There are also several online services which allow a user to use a false IP address, usually for privacy reasons.

Pandora appears to be erring on the side of caution to maintain their legitimacy and licensing groups are exercising perfectly legal rights, but many listeners will have little sympathy for those trying to apply national constraints on the 'world wide web'.

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