There are things that we all take for granted. They're out there, they've always been around and they'll always be there when we need/want them.
Or so we think - until they're no longer there. And it's only then that we realize what we missed.
For the last few years, we the people have been able to take advantage of one of the truly useful features of the Internet revolution - CD quality music that we could listen on streaming Internet sites, and even download and record.
No matter what your taste in music, there's a stream to suit you. There are tens of thousands of streams to choose from - about 20,000 at the Shoutcast site (http://yp.shoutcast.com) alone - many of them broadcasting high quality audio that, using free or low cost programs, you can download and record to your computer, and then burn as an audio CD. And it's all 100 percent legal.
But maybe not for much longer. The current law that allows small Webcasters to broadcast commercial music for a reasonable royalty fee expired in 2005, and the group that sets these rates, the Copyright Royalty Board, has decided after two years of deliberation to hike - seriously and drastically hike - the royalty payments small Webcasters will have to pay. The only exception would be for some non-commercial stations (http://tinyurl.com/2erjm4) - that do not stream commercial recordings on a regular basis.
Implementation of these rules would really be the end of an era - and a slap in the face of people who try to download free music in virtually the only legal way possible. As seems to be the case more and more these days, the people who try to do things right are the ones who get screwed. The fair-use right of end listeners to record streams has never been questioned (while the right of small streaming sites to broadcast music was authorized in the US by Congress in 2002), and recording streaming Internet music from sites like the aforementioned Shoutcast with its 20,000 stations has been a great way to build up a free, legal music library. Once the new rules go into effect, however, you'll probably be able to count the number of streaming music sites on one (maybe two) hands, since most small Webcasters who are barely making a living, as well as terrestrial radio stations that already have a going business, are going to decide that the fees just don't make Webcasting worthwhile anymore.
Of course, it's the people like me who try to "do the right thing" that are going to be hurt; the "rights" of those who download music without paying for it via Bitorrent, Limewire, iMesh and other P2P programs. If the Recording Industry Association of America and its allied groups worldwide intend on going after as many people who download music illegally as it can (http://tinyurl.com/29ld92), then this knuckleheaded change in the fee structure for streaming Internet radio is just going to make their job harder, because there will be a lot more people downloading music illegally when the streams stop.
There are movements and petitions afoot (like the one at http://savenetradio.org) to preserve the status quo, and this isn't the first time the recording industry has tried to lean on streaming Internet audio and failed. But if I had to make a prediction, I would have to say that, based on a number of factors, such as the way Windows is marketing its new Vista operating system (http://tinyurl.com/2u4d7w), it's just a matter of time before the music industry disenfranchises streaming music altogether.
So, if you are a fan of streaming music, or if you want to build up a free collection of your favorite music, now's the time to act. There are several programs that make it easy (and even free) to record Shoutcasts in MP3 format, downloading the music in high quality audio and saving each file with its ID tag (name of song and artist). Two excellent programs for this purpose are AudioStreamer (http://www.rmbsoft.com/as.asp) and StationRipper (http://www.stationripper.com/), both of which plug into MP3 Shoutcasts, listing the stations and genres and recording the music onto your hard drive.
Both programs offer free and pay versions, with various limitations; AudioStreamer lets you record one stream at a time for as long as you want, while the newest version of StreamRipper lets you record two streams at a time (25 songs/files per session). With both of these programs, you can quickly (like in a week) build up a library of hundreds or even thousands of songs, which you can then winnow down for your favorites and record onto CD (audio or MP3), download to your MP3 player, etc. Currently, the files recorded in this manner are free and clear for personal use/transfer etc. with none of the built-in Digital Rights Management issues that you get with music purchased from on-line sites (for best quality, record music from stations (for best results, record from stations with a bitrate of 128).
For years, I've been called "sucker" for not joining the freebie download party on P2P sites - and I'm sorry to say that if and when the "authorities" turn off free steaming music, I'll have to add that title to my digital resume.