I'd like to collaborate (e.g. play together) with other musicians in my local area and/or beyond.
Coronavirus has made in-person collaboration difficult. Latency makes internet-based collaboration difficult.
Is there a legal way for a group of musicians to play together using amateur radio in the United States?
Here's what I've found so far:
The Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR), under Part 97.113 (Amateur Radio Service - Prohibited transmissions), lists
(4) Music using a phone emission except as specifically provided elsewhere in this section; ...
Two notes about the above excerpt:
- The ARRL glossary defines "phone emission" as "The FCC name for voice or other sound transmissions."
- Regarding the "... except ...", I can only find one other use of the word "music" in Part 97:
(c) No station shall retransmit programs or signals emanating from any type of radio station other than an amateur station, except propagation and weather forecast information intended for use by the general public and originated from United States Government stations, and communications, including incidental music, originating on United States Government frequencies between a manned spacecraft and its associated Earth stations. ...
I think this is saying it's ok for amateurs to retransmit a signal which includes incidental music if that signal originates from the listed government/spacecraft-related sources.
Here are questions I believe are unanswered by Part 97:
- Does "phone emissions" include digitally encoded audio emissions? This would imply it is illegal for a ham radio network to provide access to a musical mp3 file on the internet or any video that contains even incidental music. Both Broadband-Hamnet and HamWAN include a statement to the effect of "... be sure that any internet traffic that will be sent over radio will comply with Part 97 rules." If it were clear that accessing any file on the internet incidentally containing music is not Part 97 compliant, they would probably provide that information. That would mean it's illegal even to transfer (almost) any video game or other software that includes musical sounds using a ham radio network. It would be nearly impossible in some cases for a ham to know they are even doing something illegal. It may be that the mention of music in these regulations was not meant to cover these situations, but instead to allow for so-called "pirate radio" broadcasts to be shut down.
- Imagine there are two individuals having a conversation over ham radio in a perfectly legal fashion. If they begin singing to each other instead of talking, their conversation then becomes illegal? Even if suggested by the language in Part 97, this may not be true in any legally defensible way unless there is some legal precedent that would help draw a line between speech and music (e.g. something relating to the intent of the transmission). A similar discussion is given in a related question here.
A note on why this question is distinct from what-defines-music-per-amateur-radio-regulations:
The question what-defines-music-per-amateur-radio-regulations focuses on short musical sounds for another listener to receive and what defines "music". The accepted answer states "
... Bottom line, if something that is purely incidental to the conversation, or if you are transmitting it digitally, you can actually have a bit of music and not get your hand slapped by the FCC. Thus, the doorbell seems fine, and most likely the types of "Windows Sounds" that sometimes come up, but personally, I wouldn't risk it. If you are trying to broadcast then you are almost certainly in violation of the law.
The answer, just like the question, focuses on the applications of DJing music and sending bell sounds, presumably as indicators to aid in communications. Admittedly, the question does center around the lack of clarity related to the term "music". However the accepted answer does not provide a clear answer to whether musical collaboration in all forms is disallowed on radio, digital or analog. It even could reasonably be interpreted as suggesting (e.g. "... or if you are transmitting it digitally ...") that musical digital audio streams are allowed. Also, in contrast to the applications in the what-defines-music-per-amateur-radio-regulations, the application of musical collaboration between two (or more) individuals does not involve an audience. Musical collaboration is more in-line with a conversation than a musical broadcast. This changes the intention of the transmission away from amateur DJing (or so called "pirate radio"), an application that these laws were possibly designed to prevent. Many musicians and music teachers are, due to covid-19, currently struggling with figuring out how to collaborate and teach music remotely. Radio may be the only practical widely available solution for this application. Assuming the intent of the law or the radio operator are legally important, I believe this post asks a distinct question from that of what-defines-music-per-amateur-radio-regulations.
Update -- Part 97 does give a definition of "phone" in section 97.3.c.5:
(c) The following terms are used in this part to indicate emission types. Refer to §2.201 of the FCC Rules, Emission, modulation and transmission characteristics, for information on emission type designators.
(5) Phone. Speech and other sound emissions having designators with A, C, D, F, G, H, J or R as the first symbol; 1, 2, 3 or X as the second symbol; E as the third symbol. Also speech emissions having B or F as the first symbol; 7, 8 or 9 as the second symbol; E as the third symbol. MCW for the purpose of performing the station identification procedure, or for providing telegraphy practice interspersed with speech. Incidental tones for the purpose of selective calling or alerting or to control the level of a demodulated signal may also be considered phone.
A couple notes:
- Only "speech emissions" (and not "other sound emissions") are stated to be considered as phone emissions for emissions having B or F as the first symbol.
- From §2.201, the definition of type E information is "Telephony (including sound broadcasting)".
- As far as I can tell, even if speech and telephony both do include music, "phone" doesn't include all telephony (i.e. xxExx) emission types.