It’s nice to think of the Internet as a place without borders — in other words, without all the walls and boundaries and checkpoints that we’re used to in the “real” world. Unfortunately, that’s just not the way it is, and the Pandora music-sharing site is only the latest example. The thing I find most surprising about Pandora isn’t that it is being forced to put its content in a box, it’s that the company has been able to remain unboxed for so long.
Content owners and rights-holders of all kinds use IP sniffing to block users from different countries (and of course countries like China use similar means to block foreign content that might unduly influence the local populace). As a Canadian, I’m well acquainted with this practice, since it is the same process that prevents me from watching episodes of Heroes on the NBC site if I forget to have my PVR record it, or blocks me from watching clips from Saturday Night Live and other shows. Why? Because Canadian broadcasters make their living by licensing those shows, and they don’t like to think about people watching them on the Interweb any old time they want.
As Tom Conrad of Pandora points out in the comments section of Mike Arrington’s post at TechCrunch, it’s not enough to do deals with groups like Canada’s SOCAN — which handles rights for composers and “publishers.” Sites that are considered to be Internet radio like Pandora have to sign deals with the record labels as well, and that is where the sticking point lies. As Mike Masnick notes at Techdirt, the record industry could teach advanced classes in how to shoot yourself in the foot.
And Mark is quite right that this isn’t the only fight that Pandora and Last.fm have on their plate: there’s also the ongoing battle over the new fees for streaming Internet radio, about which there is more info at the Broadcast Law blog (thanks to Lucas Gonze for the link). If you want to get involved somehow, check out the Save Internet Radio site.