Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

The Summer of Copyright, Part 3 – The Copyright Office Requests Further Comments in its Inquiry on Music Royalties and Licensing

Posted in Intellectual Property, Internet Radio, Music Rights

We’ve already written twice about the copyright issues being considered this summer before various agencies and branches of government – all dealing with music licensing issues (see our previous Summer of Copyright articles here and here).  The pattern continues, as the Copyright Office has now requested further comments on music licensing issues, following up on its roundtables held across the country during the month of June to discuss its music licensing inquiry begun in the spring (see our summary of the initial Copyright Office notice on its study, here).  In yesterday’s Federal Register, there is a notice asking a series of questions about specific issues that were raised in the roundtables which the Office apparently finds to be of significance.  Additional comments on these issues, and on any related issues affecting music licensing, are due on or before August 22.

What are the questions being asked by the Copyright Office, and what do they portend for its ultimate recommendations to Congress who, as we recently wrote, is itself considering music licensing issues and the potential for a comprehensive reform of music licensing in this country?  The areas in which the questions are being raised are not new ones, but instead continue the themes raised in other forums this summer.  They include questions as to how withdrawals of major publishers from the Performing Rights Organizations (ASCAP and BMI in particular) could affect those organizations.  We first wrote about potential publisher withdrawals and the impact that could have on music services back in 2011.  Also, on a related question, they ask why, when these organizations have collected record amounts of money in recent years, songwriters are complaining that they are economically struggling.  In addition, questions are asked about the procedures used by the Copyright Royalty Board in their rate-setting process and whether those procedures should be revised, how better identification of musical works and sound recordings could be adopted to make recordkeeping and royalty administration easier, how a system of setting mechanical royalties could work without a statutory license, and whether there are international licensing models that might be adaptable to the US market.  Some details below. Continue Reading

FCC Complaints Filed Against TV Stations for Not Identifying the True Sponsor of Political Ads

Posted in Payola and Sponsorship Identification, Political Broadcasting, Television

Public interest groups are actively watching broadcast political advertising which could make this a very interesting year for broadcasters.  The Sunlight Foundation, which only two months ago filed complaints against 11 television stations for alleged inadequacies in their online political files (see our summary here), has now filed two new complaints alleging that television stations violated FCC rules in recent elections by not identifying the true sponsor of political ads.  In each complaint, Sunlight alleged that ads were tagged as having been sponsored by Political Action Committees, but in each case the true sponsor who should have been identified was the wealthy individual who had contributed all of the funds to the PAC.  Sunlight’s press release about the complaints is available here, and contains links to the complaints themselves.  Is this complaint valid?

The complaint focuses on the language in Section 317 of the Communications Act which requires that when a station broadcasts any content and “consideration is directly or indirectly paid, or promised to or charged or accepted by, the station so broadcasting, from any person,” that person must be identified.  While it seems clear from FCC precedent that person does not mean individual person, as corporations or other legal entities can certainly be sponsors, the compliant submits that this situation is different.  Why?  Because, the petitioners argue, the PACs involved in these cases (one supporting a Republican candidate, the other supporting a Democrat) were effectively each an alter ego for a single individual who provided all the funds for the PAC.  But how is the TV station supposed to know? Continue Reading

More LPFM Applications for Broadcasters to Review to Assess Potential Interference Issues, and New Petition to Deny Deadlines

Posted in AM Radio, FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM, Noncommercial Broadcasting

We wrote last week about the FCC’s determination of which applicants are to be preferred in several groups of mutually exclusive applications for new Low Power FM stations.  We warned full-power FM broadcasters to review the preferred applicants as broadcasters have 30 days from last week’s public notice to file petitions to deny against such LPFM applications citing interference concerns or other issues with those applications.  Now, a number of additional LPFM applications have been found by the FCC to be ready for grant, and broadcasters need to review these applications – and be prepared to review a steady stream of these applications, all with different petition to deny deadlines, over the next few months.  Where did these applications come from?

 In the rules for the LPFM window, the FCC decided that once it made determinations about tentative winners in mutually exclusive groups of applications, all LPFM applicants not selected (or those in ties) could file amendments to their applications seeking new channels – including major changes specifying brand new channels at different sites having no relation to the original application but for meeting the general requirements that the controlling parties in these applicants be local to the service area that they propose to serve.  As these amendments are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis, many LPFM applicants were apparently ready to go with amendments as soon as the list of tentative winners was released.  And these amendments have started to come out on public notices, announcing 30 day petition to deny deadlines (see, for instance, this list of Broadcast Applications released yesterday by the FCC, at pages 8-11). Continue Reading

FCC Releases Guide to New Broadcast Application Fees

Posted in Assignments and Transfers, FCC Fees, License Renewal

The FCC fees that must be paid by commercial broadcasters when they file most applications with the Commission went up as of July 3.  See our article here about the July 3 effective date, and our article here about the adoption of the new higher fees.  The FCC yesterday released a full guide to those fees – setting out how much broadcasters must pay when seeking any particular action from the FCC (including applications for approvals of assignments and transfers, construction permits, STA requests, license renewal, new call letters and even when they file biennial ownership reports).  You can find that guide here.  It is a convenient guide to keep on hand for those times that you are preparing an FCC application and need to know what the required fee is for that application, the associated codes needed when submitting the fees, and other details of how to pay the fees associated with FCC applications.  If you don’t pay the fee, the application will not be processed.  So take note of the increased fees associated with broadcast applications.

FCC Asks for Comments on Extending Construction Permits for New Digital LPTV and TV Translator Stations Until September 2015 Digital Conversion Deadline

Posted in Digital Television, Low Power Television/Class A TV, Television

The FCC’s Media Bureau yesterday released a Public Notice asking for comment on a proposal to extend the construction deadline until September 1, 2015 for any construction permit for a digital LPTV station or a TV translator that will expire before that date.  September 1, 2015 is the deadline for all TV translators and LPTV stations to convert to digital or to cease operations.  See our article here on the obligations for LPTV and TV translators to convert to digital by September of next year.  Comments on the proposal for the blanket extension of the construction deadline for these stations are due August 14, with replied due on August 29.

The Commission once before denied a blanket extension of the construction deadlines for all such construction permits (see our article here).  But given how close the impending deadline now is, and the uncertainties over the ability of any new LPTV or TV translator to continue to operate after the incentive auctions (and the uncertainty over just what those auctions will require), the Bureau has asked for comments on this extension deadline.  Interested parties should prepare their comments on this matter by the August deadline.  Obviously, a quick decision will be necessary to be meaningful given the impending deadline for digital conversion – just over a year away.

FCC Adopts New Obligations to Caption Online Video Clips of TV Programs

Posted in Digital Television, Internet Video, On Line Media, Television, Uncategorized, Website Issues

The FCC on Friday voted to extend its rule about captioning TV video repurposed to the Internet so as to cover not only full television programs, but also clips of those programs.  While the rules already require that TV programming that is captioned when broadcast to be captioned when retransmitted in full over the Internet, the new rules, to be phased in as described below, require that clips of TV programs that were broadcast with captions also be captioned when repurposed for online use.  In addition to adopting the rules for phasing in this new requirement, the Commission also asked several questions in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, asking some technical questions about the rules that it already adopted, and also whether to expand the requirements to other services and to programming that mixes both programming excepted from TV and programming that is original to the Internet.   

While the full text of the FCC’s decision has not yet been released, from the discussion at the FCC meeting and from its Public Notice about the rules, the outlines of the newly imposed obligations seem fairly clear.  The rules adopted for video clips, and the timeline for the implementation of these rules, are as follows: 

  • January 1, 2016 – captioning for “straight lift” clips, which are defined as a single excerpt of a program that had been captioned when first shown on TV, with the same video and audio as had been broadcast.
  • January 1, 2017 – captioning for video montages – which are collections of clips from different broadcasts, where all had been captioned when broadcast.  
  • July 1, 2017 – captioning for clips of time-sensitive (i.e., live or near-live) programming.  There will be a “grace period” between TV airing and required online captioning of 12 hours for live programming and eight hours for near-live programming.  (The staff confirmed during the post-meeting press conference that once the grace period expires, the posted clip must be captioned; if an earlier, non-captioned version was posted, it must be replaced.)

The Commission discussed that there would be some potential for waivers of these rules for small market stations, but the details of the standards that would apply were not detailed.  Also, there are some limitations on the obligations for posting of video clips that do not apply to the captioning obligations for full-length programs.  Those limitations are discussed below.  Continue Reading

Not Dead Yet – Aereo Tries To Reinvent Itself By Arguing that it is a Cable System Entitled to Carry Television Stations Pursuant to the Statutory License

Posted in Cable Carriage, Digital Television, Intellectual Property, Internet Video, On Line Media, Television

The Supreme Court decision in the Aereo case seemed to be the end of the line for the service that was retransmitting television stations signals without consent, as it found that the broadcasters were entitled to an injunction to force Aereo to cease the public performance of their signals without consent.  In fact, Aereo itself seemed to think so too, shutting off its service soon after the decision.  But in a move that was surprising to some, Aereo has apparently not thrown in the towel, and it is now back in Court with a two-pronged argument as to why its service is still viable (see its letter to the Court here).  First, it argues that, as the Supreme Court seemed to think that Aereo acted like a cable system and should be treated in the same manner as a cable system for purposes of determining whether its retransmission of a television stations signal was a public performance, it might as well be treated like a cable system for all purposes, and thus it should be entitled to carry the signals of TV stations pursuant to the statutory license granted to cable systems by Section 111 of the Copyright Act.  Second, it argues that, even if it does not qualify for treatment as a cable system, it should nevertheless be able to retransmit television signals – just not in real time, as the Aereo contends that the Court decision only prevented simultaneous and near simultaneous retransmissions of the television stations’ signals.  Offering once again a fearless prediction – I doubt these arguments will help Aereo any more than did their arguments before the Supreme Court.

Admittedly, their argument that they qualify as a cable system under the Copyright Act has some appeal.  In fact, as we noted in our summary of the oral argument before the Supreme Court, the Justices even asked why the company did not qualify as a cable company.  Section 111 of the Copyright Act defines a cable system as follows:

A “cable system” is a facility, located in any State, territory, trust territory, or possession of the United States, that in whole or in part receives signals transmitted or programs broadcast by one or more television broadcast stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, and makes secondary transmissions of such signals or programs by wires, cables, microwave, or other communications channels to subscribing members of the public who pay for such service.

That language is seemingly broad, covering not just what most of us think as a cable system (one that uses wires to transmit TV programming to the customer), as it talks expansively of “other communications channels” to deliver programming.  Of course, when satellite TV started, they were unsure of their status under this definition, and ended up getting a whole new section of the act to determine their ability to retransmit local TV signals to their subscribers.  But even if this section can be read expansively to cover Aereo, what does that get them? Continue Reading

FCC Applies Point System to Resolve Conflicts Between Mutually Exclusive LPFM Applications – Sets Deadlines for Petitions to Deny and Amendments to Applications

Posted in FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

More LPFMs are on the way, and broadcasters have 30 days to file any objections to the coming new stations.  In an order just released by the FCC, the FCC applied its “point system” to select the winning applicant in groups of mutually exclusive applications filed in the recent LPFM window in Western states (as far east as Nebraska and Kansas).  Future selectees in other parts of the country will come in later public notices.  This notice starts the clock on several dates – including a 30 day petition to deny period where full-power stations can raise issues of interference and other issues against applicants, and applicants can raise issues against each other.  The notice also sets a 90 day window for LPFM applicants whose applications were under consideration in this notice to file applications to make changes in their applications – including major changes to new frequencies or different transmitter sites.

The FCC’s notice consists of three documents.  First, there is a description of the action taken by the FCC setting out how the points were awarded to applicants, the options now available to the applicants based on the point system determinations, and the deadlines for the Petitions.  Next, there is a list of the applications that were considered, highlighting the winning applicant in each group of mutually exclusive applicants (or the winning applicants if there was a tie under the point system analysis).  The third document lists all of the applicants on the list who requested waivers of the spacing requirements to full-power stations on second-adjacent channels.  Licensees of full-power stations serving areas near these proposed stations should review these applications carefully. Continue Reading

FCC Fines Cable System $2.25 Million for Retransmitting TV Stations Without Consent

Posted in Cable Carriage, FCC Fines, Television

The FCC yesterday issued an order imposing a $2.25 Million fine on a set of companies that operated a system that retransmitted TV signals to households in large housing units in the Houston area.  The system had paid retransmission consent fees to the TV stations, then stopped doing so, claiming that it was changing so as to operate as a Master Antenna Television System (MATV).  MATV systems are exempt from paying retransmission consent fees under certain defined circumstances.  This exemption was adopted for apartment complexes and other large residential dwelling units to allow residents to receive over-the-air television so as to not force all of the residents to have an antenna in their own residential units, which might not be feasible or optimal for TV reception.  The problem in yesterday’s case, according to the FCC decision, was that this company did not in fact act as an MATV system, but instead continued to deliver its programming to the dwelling units by means of its fiber connection to a single headend, where TV programs were bundled with traditional cable network programming.  According to the decision, the system continued to transmit TV signals through its fiber network for as much as 208 days after the expiration of the retransmission consent agreements with the TV stations whose signals it was carrying.

FCC rules require that cable systems and other MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors) receive the consent of TV stations before retransmitting their signals.  The exception for MATV systems is a limited one. It provides that the signals of TV stations be made available to the residents of the dwelling units that are served “without charge and at the subscribers (sic) option” and that the receiving device be either owned by the subscriber or building owner, or “available for their purchase upon the termination of service.”  The Commission further faulted the service for apparently having continued to deliver TV programming to subscribers by its fiber service from its headend, even after installing master antennas at the buildings in which the subscribers lived.  Simply having the antennas available was not enough to excuse the system from the retransmission consent obligations when the actual signals were sent by fiber.  Continue Reading

The Summer of Copyright, Part 2 – The House Judiciary Committee Plans Omnibus Music Licensing Bill – The “Music Bus”

Posted in Broadcast Performance Royalty, Intellectual Property, Internet Radio, Music Rights, On Line Media

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week finished its second hearing on music licensing (written witness statements and a link to the webcast can be found here).  Congressional hearings usually are not in-depth proceedings looking to establish detailed facts as done in a hearing in a court proceeding.  Instead, they are formalized proceedings where parties get to make their canned statements setting out positions on issues.  Congressional representatives themselves make statements setting out their positions on the issues, and ask pointed questions to selected witnesses to reinforce those positions.  Minds are rarely changed, and the truly undecided are rarely illuminated on the issues.  But the hearings do serve to set out the issues that are going to be considered by the Committee in ultimately crafting legislation.  And last week’s hearing did just that – highlighting the issues likely to be considered in legislation promised by the Committee Chair, Representative Goodlatte, who promised an omnibus bill on music licensing, dubbed the “Music Bus,” to address the many issues on the table.

Note that any bill that is ultimately introduced will address many seemingly minor issues – details of process and procedure that don’t make the headlines.  But the big issues are the ones that will cause the most industry argument before the lawyers work out the details.  It’s also important to note that it is very late in the legislative calendar right now, with the Senate not putting the same emphasis on copyright issues as it the House.  With elections coming up in the Fall, and scheduled upcoming summer recess, Congress has much must-pass legislation that will fill up their legislative days before the next Congress is sworn in in January.  The start of a new Congress means that all legislation will have a fresh start.  Thus, any Omnibus bill that is introduced this year will most likely not become law, but instead will set the agenda for discussions for next year in the new Congress.  Certainly, there may be more limited bills that sponsors may try to get stuck on other legislation that must move before the end of the Congressional session, so interested parties will remain vigilant during the final days of this session of Congress.  But what are the issues that are on the table for inclusion in any Music Bus? Continue Reading