Webcast archive, not podcast

Some radio listeners, DJs, and station staff have told us about features they expect in Spinitron’s Ark webcast archive service, features like skip, seek, and segmenting the stream into radio programs. It’s as though they expect the archive to be like a podcast player. But our service doesn’t work like that. This article explains why and what it does instead.

Podcasts

In the podcast model of user interaction, you choose a radio program that aired some time ago, start it, and listen to an audio stream that starts and ends according to the radio program you selected. While listening you have a user interface with some or all of the typical controls: pause/resume button, a slider for seeking, forward and back skip buttons, and when the radio program ends the player stops. This is basically an audio-on-demand service that creates audio streams tailored to match the radio station’s programs.

Spinitron Ark doesn’t do that. We think these interactive features of the podcast model clearly exceed limits set out in the statutory license (17 USC 112(e) and 114). Podcasting music typically requires direct licenses from the rights holders.

Our liability isn’t yours and visa versa

Spinitron will not be liable for unlicensed use of copyrighted sound recordings in any of the archive services we offer.

Spinitron is a commercial operation with its specific liabilities. Since we depend on Spinitron for our livelihood, we try to understand the liabilities and to operate it in ways that do not put us at too much risk.

What may be an acceptable risk to, for example, a non-profit charitable or educational organization with a webcast service might not be acceptable to us if we were to provide an equivalent service commercially to you and dozens or hundreds of similar stations.

For example, hypothetically speaking, if a rights holder (e.g. a record label) or their agent (e.g. RIAA) would notice that a community or college radio station is podcasting their sound recordings, they might take a look at the organization and decide it’s not a good idea to sue. Personally, I would be very surprised if they did. But if, hypothetically, Spinitron were to sell a service that automatically converts the programs of dozens or hundreds of radio stations’ webcasts into podcasts, I think we’d be a legit target for a suit.

So, you might wonder, What exactly does Spinitron offer? How is it different from the podcast model?

Webcasts and webcasting an “archived program”

We provide replay of a station’s live webcast. You choose the date and time and start listening. Our web player allows you to choose the start date/time in 15 minute increments. Once started, the player affords pause/resume but that’s the only interactive control we provide that you don’t get with a live webcast[^1].

The player runs for about 5 hours if you don’t stop it first. [Owing to a bug in the technical design of our service, if you choose a date/time within the last 5 hours of the moment you start the player then it might run for less than 5 hours. We look forward to fixing this bug soon, see below.]

Why end the streams after 5 hours? I would prefer for the archive stream to keep running indefinitely since that would be more like live radio and like the station’s live webcast, just delayed. But we don’t want to be wasteful – we don’t want to leave audio players running indefinitely with nobody listening so we automatically stop the player after a while.

Why specifically 5 hours and not 2, 3 or 4? Because the statutory license says so. Quoting here from SoundExchange’s excellently concise summary of US Code with my emphasis…

All statutory licensees must be eligible to operate under section 114, and the specific eligibility requirements are listed there. To be eligible, a service must be (in most cases):

  1. a noninteractive service,
  2. creating transmissions adherent to the sound recording performance complement,
  3. not allowing the listener a reasonable foreknowledge of the transmission of a specific sound recording at a specific date and time (e.g., by the use of a published advanced program, playlist, announcement, etc.),
  4. not creating transmissions as part of an “archived program” (a) less than 5 hours in duration, or (b) available for a period exceeding 2 weeks,
  5. not creating transmissions as part of a continuous program less than 3 hours in duration,
  6. creating audio-only transmissions (i.e. without the use of video imagery synchronized with the audio transmission),
  7. reasonably cooperating to prevent certain kinds of selective transmitting and/or illegal copying of the transmission by the listener,
  8. using an ephemeral phonorecord created from a copy of a sound recording that was authorized by the sound recording copyright owner for commercial release,
  9. reasonably not interfering with technical copyright protection techniques, and
  10. identifying on the receiving device, in textual data, simultaneous to the transmission, the following identifying elements related to the sound recording being transmitted: (a) the name of the featured artist, (b) the title of the sound recording, and, to the extent that one exists, (c) the title of the phonorecord embodying such recording.

[^1]: Arguably a pause/resume control might exceed the statutory license and, arguably, audio players can in fact pause/resume a live webcast and indeed some do.

You can have a podcast-like radio archive if you want

I described above the features of Spinitron’s Ark service and why it was designed that way. That’s what we offer as a ready-to-go webcast archive in which all you have to do is give us your stream URL and we do the rest, confident that offering/using the service isn’t likely to get us/you in legal trouble.

I also said that our liabilities are not yours. You might choose to offer a more podcast-like archive. Some stations have been offering podcast-like radio archives for years. I guess they estimate their risks differently than we estimate ours. You might choose to follow that example. If you did, Spinitron might even be able to help.

The Spinitron Ark HLS server

Our archive stream server creates audio streams on-demand using audio files that it creates from your live webcast. The client specifies the starting date and time in a web request URL that it sends to the Ark server. The server responds with an HLS playlist that starts at that date/time and runs for about 5 hours.

For the time being our HLS server is limited to creating VOD playlists using the audio files it’s already finished copying from your live webcast. So when it gets a request for an HLS playlist within about 310 minutes of the requested date/time, the playlist will be only as long as the files ready to play at that moment. (I want in future to also offer EVENT playlists.)

The date/time in the request URL can be whatever you want down to the second within the last two weeks.

It’s up to the HLS client and player what it does with the audio segments listed in the HLS playlist. The user interface is not dictated by the streaming protocol.

So you can, if you want, offer a podcast-like service that uses our HLS server on your web and mobile apps. Our terms of service don’t allow that except to paying clients of the Ark service (and their designated representatives) that assume liability for what they are doing, in particular the use of copyrighted content in the archive.

HLS players

Players that play the HLS streams served by Ark might create user interfaces that are more podcast-like than we consider safe under the statutory webcast license.

For example, say you made a web page with something like this <audio src="URL-to-Ark"> on it. When a browser loads that page it’s likely to display an audio player. It might even create a “notification” somewhere on the user’s device with a player user interface in it. On a mobile device that notification player might even be shown on the device’s lock screen.

These players might include controls such as pause/resume and skip buttons and a seek slider that might exceed the limits to interactivity permitted by the statutory license. When Spinitron puts HLS audio stream URLs on its web pages, we make efforts to defeat these potentially risky controls. You or your representatives might not, in which case we assume that you and your representatives know what you are doing and understand your liabilities and won’t try to transfer those liabilities to Spinitron.

In closing

As always, we are pleased to talk to people at radio stations about the services they and we offer and we look forward to being able to help stations deliver the radio experience their listeners love.