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Have you wondered why Pandora won’t just play songs by a single artist of your choice? Or why there isn’t a list of upcoming songs in the playstation? I certainly have wondered these things. Tim Westergren, Pandora’s founder, recently answered these questions. Pandora is subject to a government statutory license that limits its ability to play the same artists too often. Pandora has to abide by a “performance complement,” which prevents it from allowing users to customize their Pandora experience. The U.S. Copyright Royalty Board manages these agreements with Pandora and the major provision states that Pandora cannot play four or more songs by a particular artist within a three-hour period. Pandora also cannot publish a schedule that discloses the specific song titles or artists that will be transmitted throughout a user’s listening experience.
The agreement’s goal is to prevent Pandora from providing an “on-demand” listening experience. This explains why there is no rewind function available on the site. According to the Pandora website, it cannot allow users to create a playstation that only plays certain songs or artists. Pandora is forced to offer a myriad of musicians and songs in each of its playstations. Moreover, the “cooperate to defeat scanning” provision of the performance complement limits a listener’s use of the beloved “skip” feature. This feature allows users to skip over a song that they do not want to hear. Pandora is required to limit the number of skips a user can take advantage of in a certain period of time, otherwise the service will start to resemble an “on-demand” listening service. Unlimited skips would be similar to users picking the song of their choice.
What’s interesting is that these requirements apply to all Pandora users. Even those that have paid to receive unlimited listening hours or have upgraded to Pandora One accounts are still not allowed to create playstations that only play music from certain artists. Why pay to listen to a playstation that you cannot fully control?
There is a significant upside to this arrangement for Pandora. In exchange for not providing an on-demand listening experience, Pandora does not have to license with each of the 80,000+ musicians in its collection. In fact, Westergen said that it would be virtually impossible to license with each musician individually. Thus, Pandora’s legal agreements are only with the government, whereas companies that offer on-demand services, such as Apple, have to negotiate with major music labels and various other music publishers. This saves Pandora significant time and money. The downside is for Pandora users, like me, who have to endure music from obscure bands before they can get to the music they actually enjoy. But at least it’s free!
– Sophia Behnia
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