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Monday, August 16, 2010, 03:30 pm PT (06:30 pm ET)

NAB, RIAA seek to push FM radio into iPods and iPhones

Radio broadcasters and music labels are seeking to legally mandate FM radio reception as a feature in all consumer mobile devices in an effort to expand the market for radio.

A report by Nate Anderson of the Ars "Law & Disorder" blog notes that competing interests in radio and studio industry groups have sided on a proposal to force hardware makers to add FM radio chips to mobile phones and other consumser devices.

The National Association of Broadcasters and musicFirst (a lobbying group of which the RIAA is a member) have been at odds in a dispute about whether labels and artists should be paid performance right royalties when music is played on the radio.

Currently, only songwriters are paid performance royalties for music played by over the air radio stations, although satellite and Internet radio stations are required to pay performance fees to the artists and labels as well.

Negotiations between the two trade groups have found agreement on a plan that requires radio stations to pay new, limited performance rights fees to the studios annually, but that plan is tied to the ability of the two groups to pass laws forcing mobile device makers to add FM radio features to their devices.

Adding a mandate on FM radio chips would greatly expand the potential audience of broadcasters in an era where only one of Apple's iPod models (the latest Nano) supports FM radio playback, and none of its iPhone, iPod touch or iPad devices do. Apple sells around 70 percent of MP3 players, and has a prime position in mobile phones and tablet devices.

Apple hasn't commented on the plan, but the Consumer Electronics Association is strongly opposed to the idea."The back room scheme of the [National Association of Broadcasters] and RIAA to have Congress mandate broadcast radios in portable devices, including mobile phones, is the height of absurdity," CEA president Gary Shapiro said in the report, adding that such a move is "not in our national interest."

The Performance Rights Act currently before Congress is at the center of the controversy. "The performance royalty legislation voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee does not include this onerous and backward-looking radio requirement," Shapiro said, indicating that the CEA wants the bill to continue without any FM radio requirements being mandated.

"Rather than adapt to the digital marketplace," Shapiro said, "NAB and RIAA act like buggy-whip industries that refuse to innovate and seek to impose penalties on those that do."

The RIAA-aligned musicFIRST said it "likes FM chips in cell phones, PDAs, etc. It gives consumers access to more music choices," while the NAB said in the report that it "would argue that having radio capability on cell phones and other mobile devices would be a great thing, particularly from a public safety perspective. There are few if any technologies that match the reliability of broadcast radio in terms of getting lifeline information to the masses."