Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and Children’s Television Reports, Incentive Auction Actions, CRB Webcasting Closing Argument and More

Posted in Broadcast Auctions, Children's Programming and Advertising, Digital Television, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FM Radio, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, Intellectual Property, Internet Radio, Music Rights, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

Another month is upon us, with the typical list of FCC dates of importance – and some new issues (including incentive auction developments that will probably be a regular part of our news through a good part of next year). One date of importance to some TV broadcasters was yesterday – July 1 – when TV stations affiliated with one of the Big Four TV networks and located in the Top 60 TV markets need to be carrying at least 50 hours of prime time or children’s programming each quarter containing video description. While most of this programming will come from the networks themselves, affiliates in these markets should be now be passing through enough of this video-described programming to meet the quarterly minimums.

July 10 brings other routine filing deadlines. For all broadcasters, by July 10 you should have in your public file (the online public file for TV stations) your Quarterly Issues Programs lists describing the most important issues that faced your community in the prior quarter and the programming that you broadcast to address those issues. Also due to be filed at the FCC by July 10 is your station’s Children’s Television Programming Report on Form 398 describing the programming broadcast on your station to serve the educational and informational needs of children. In addition, TV stations need to place in their online public file information showing compliance with the commercial limits in children’s programming and, for Class A stations, documentation showing continued eligibility for Class A status. For other dates of importance to broadcasters, see our Broadcaster Regulatory Calendar, here. Continue Reading

Understanding the Murky State of the Performance Right in Pre-1972 Sound Recordings – Florida Court Rejects the Right yet Sirius XM Settles With the Record Labels

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

It’s another summer with music copyright issues hitting the press almost every day. Over the next week or two, we will try to catch up on some of the legal issues raised by all the music news. First, let’s look at the significant actions in the last ten days in the battle over whether there is a public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings. Just a few days after there was a court decision (available here) finding that there was no common law public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings under Florida law, Sirius XM last week announced that it had settled the case brought against it by the major record labels by agreeing to pay $210 million for nationwide public performance rights to the catalog of recordings that these labels own, said by Sirius’ SEC 8-K filing to comprise about 80% of those sound recordings. Obviously, that settlement does not appear to resolve the issues with independent sound recording owners (like Flo & Eddie who brought the actions that have resulted in NY and California decisions finding a performance right in pre-1972 recordings in those two states). But what do the settlement and Florida decision mean for other users of these recordings?

First, a review of the issue with pre-1972 sound recordings. With all of the copyright issues that have been in the news in the last few weeks, that review is necessary so that readers really understand the issues involved in this case – beyond just the headlines. Pre-1972 sound recordings (sound recordings being a song or other audio material, as recorded by a particular artist) first released in the United States are different than other sound recordings, as they do not have protections under Federal copyright law. Prior to 1972, Federal copyright law did not protect sound recordings at all, only protecting what is referred to as the “musical work” or “musical composition” (the underlying words and music of a song). The actual recording of the song was protected only under state laws, and most state laws addressed only unauthorized reproductions of those recordings (e.g. bootlegged copies), not performance rights. When copyright protections over sound recordings were federalized in 1972, states were left with the right to determine how to deal with pre-1972 recordings. Continue Reading

FCC Announces New Round of EEO Audits for Radio Companies

Posted in EEO Compliance/Diversity

The FCC yesterday issued a Public Notice announcing its second EEO audit for 2015.  Letters to just over 100 radio (no TV stations were included in the current audit) went out on June 12 asking for evidence of their compliance with the FCC’s EEO rules.  Many of the stations included on this list appear to be noncommercial broadcasters. In yesterday’s notice, the FCC released the form audit letter and list of stations that will be audited. Responses from the audited stations are due to be filed at the FCC by July 27. Licensees should carefully review the list of affected stations contained in the Public Notice to see if any of their stations have been selected for the audit. Note that there are some blank pages included in the PDF version available at this link, so be sure to scroll through these blank pages to view the entire list of audited stations.

The Commission has pledged to audit 5% of all broadcast stations and cable systems each year to assure their compliance with the Commission’s EEO rules – including the requirements for wide dissemination of information about job openings and non-vacancy specific supplemental efforts to educate a station’s community about job opportunities in the media industry. We recently summarized the FCC EEO issues here, reminding broadcasters of the possibility of being audited. We also recently wrote about the start of the obligations for the filing of FCC Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – which started this month for radio groups with more than 11 full-time employees and will extend to TV licensees with 5 or more full-time employees next year, and are filed on the 4th anniversary of the filing deadline for the station’s license renewal – which will give the FCC another chance to review station EEO performance.   Continue Reading

Incentive Auction Next Step – FCC Identifies Auction-Eligible Stations and Requires All TV Stations to File Information on Technical Facilities by July 9

Posted in Broadcast Auctions, Digital Television, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, Low Power Television/Class A TV, Television

The FCC just took another step toward the TV incentive auction, and set one of the first of what will no doubt be many deadlines for stations to meet as part of the process. The FCC released a list of all stations that they find to be eligible to participate in the incentive auction. These are also the stations that will be protected in the post-auction repacking of the television spectrum if their licenses are not surrendered as part of the auction process.  The Commission also released a public notice explaining the next steps in the process and setting the July 9 filing deadline. The public notice sets out a process for any licensee that believes that its station was incorrectly left off the list of eligible stations to request that its station be included – so all station owners should carefully review the list now.

The Public Notice asks licensees to certify on a new FCC form, the “Pre-Auction Technical Certification Form,” FCC Form 2100 Schedule 381, that the information in the FCC’s technical databases regarding their station is accurate or, if it is not, to file corrections and explanations as to why the information is wrong. This new form will be filed in the FCC’s new LMS electronic filing system, and is due from all TV stations eligible to participate in the auction by July 9.  In addition, each station needs to provide information about the specifics of the facilities with which they operate – including specifics on their transmitter, antenna and tower.  This information will be used by the FCC to evaluate how to repack stations, taking into account their coverage and the costs associated with replacing the station’s equipment after the repacking. Continue Reading

June Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – EEO Public File Reports and Form 397, CALM Act Compliance Obligations, Incentive Auction Actions, Comments on Reg Fees and LPFM Rules, and More

Posted in Digital Television, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FCC Fees, FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, Incentive Auctions/Broadband Report, License Renewal, Noncommercial Broadcasting, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

June brings some standard obligations for broadcasters in a number of states with anniversaries of their license renewal filing, plus the return of an obligation that we have not seen in 4 years- the obligations of radio stations in certain states to file an FCC Form 397 Mid-Term EEO Report. In addition to these routine regulatory deadlines, comment dates on certain FCC proceedings, a new CALM Act deadline, and some decisions for which broadcasters should be watching are among the regulatory actions that we can expect this coming month.

First, let’s look at the standard recurring obligations. By June 1, Annual EEO Public Inspection File Reports need to be placed in the public inspection files (including the online files of TV stations) of stations that are part of a station employment unit with five or more full-time (30 hours per week) employees that are licensed to communities in these states: Arizona, Idaho, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.  As we wrote in more detail yesterday, June 1 also brings the obligation of radio stations that are part of employment units with 11 or more full-time employees, and are located in Maryland, DC, Virginia or West Virginia to file their Form 397, EEO Mid-Term Report. Every other month for the next four years we will see a similar obligation arise for a group of radio or TV stations in states that have celebrated the 4th anniversary of the filing of their license renewal applications. Continue Reading

FCC Issues Reminder on Form 397 EEO Mid-Term Reports – Filing Obligations Begin on June 1 for Radio Stations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia

Posted in AM Radio, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FM Radio, License Renewal

EEO Mid-Term Reports on FCC Form 397 must be filed at the mid-point of the renewal cycle of radio stations if they are part of a station employment unit with more than 10 full-time employees, or 5 or more full-time employees for TV. A station employment unit is one or more commonly-controlled stations serving substantially the same area, and sharing at least one employee. As it has been 4 years since the first radio renewal applications were filed in the last license renewal cycle, June 1 brings the deadline for radio groups in Maryland, DC, Virginia and West Virginia that have more than 11 or more full-time (30 hours per week) employees to file their Form 397 Reports. The FCC yesterday issued a reminder to stations about this obligation.

The reminder does not address in any detail the content of the form. Essentially, the Form 397 (which can be viewed here) is like the Form 396 filed by stations in connection with their license renewal applications. After providing identifying information, the form requires that station licensees identify a person who is responsible for EEO compliance at the station, and to attach their last two EEO Public Inspection File Reports – the most recent of which will, for stations in these states, need to be placed in the public inspection file by June 1. These Public Inspection File reports can be reviewed by the FCC to assess the hiring efforts made by the broadcaster for job openings in the last two years to insure that the station’s outreach efforts to prospective new employees were sufficiently broad to attract applicants from all significant groups within the station’s service area. We wrote about the basics of the FCC’s EEO policies for broadcasters here. Continue Reading

FCC Extends Deadline for TV Stations to Convert Emergency Information in Textual Crawls to Audio on SAP Channels

Posted in Emergency Communications, Programming Regulations, Television

The FCC yesterday granted extensions requested by the National Association of Broadcasters and by the American Cable Association of the deadlines for implementation of obligations to convert emergency information conveyed in text (usually in on-screen crawls) on television broadcasts into audio to be broadcast on a TV station’s SAP channel (the second audio programming channel usually used for second-language program audio, e.g. a Spanish audio version of English-language programming). This “Audible Crawl Rule” was set to become effective yesterday. The extension of the basic requirement for TV broadcasters to convert the text of crawls containing emergency announcements to speech has been postponed six months, until November 30. Certain related obligations (to provide audio descriptions of non-textual information like weather radar maps, and to include school closing information among the emergency information provided under the Audio Crawl Rule) have been extended further into the future.

The NAB’s request for extension (about which we wrote here) was based on three different issues. The first was the NAB’s finding that the equipment to generate speech from textual crawls was not yet widely available in the marketplace, so most TV stations simply did not have the time to install the equipment to meet the FCC’s requirement. Groups representing the visually-impaired community expressed concern with the delays, but nevertheless agreed to the six month extension granted by the FCC yesterday. Continue Reading

FCC Asks for Comments on Regulatory Fees for 2015 – Lots of Questions about Broadcast Fees

Posted in AM Radio, FCC Fees, FM Radio, Television

Paying regulatory fees is a part of the yearly calendar for broadcasters and other entities that do business before the FCC. These fees are usually due in August or September, to be paid before the start of the FCC’s fiscal year on October 1. And each year, about this time, the FCC puts out a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), asking about its system for collecting royalties and what changes should be made before fee collection begins in a few months. That order came out yesterday. It resolves some issues left over from last year (deciding, for instance, to assess fees for Direct Broadcast Satellite television providers), and asks many questions – including some about broadcasters. For broadcasters, questions include whether the FCC should adjust the relative percentages of its collections from radio and TV (a question that could pit broadcasters against each other) and whether changes should be made in allocation of fees within a service, adjusting the rates currently paid by different classes of radio and TV stations. The FCC also asks whether it should adopt rules that allow stations in economically depressed areas to get relief from regulatory fees. The fees proposed for broadcasters for this year are set out at the end of this article. Comments on the FCC proposals are due on June 22, and replies by July 6.

Regulatory fees (or “reg fees” to most folks in the communications world) are assessed to recapture from those being regulated the costs of that regulation. To figure out what each regulated commercial entity must pay, the FCC has to try to allocate its budget among the various services that it regulates, based on how many of its employees spend their time regulating a particular industry (based on Full Time Employees – or “FTEs” – an FTE being a person working full-time at the FCC, or, for instance, two half-time employees who together count as a single FTE). So the FCC each year has to go through a complex analysis of the work that it does, and try to allocate the time spent by each of its employees on particular regulated services. As these NPRMs on reg fees make clear, this can be a very difficult process, as there will obviously be some employees who spend time on projects that cut across service lines – e.g. those in the International Bureau who negotiate with foreign governments may benefit broadcasters in some negotiations, and wireline or wireless companies in others. Or the Enforcement Bureau, the Office of the General Counsel and the Commissioner’s staffs may handle a diversity of matters covering all sorts of services. The allocations that are arrived at can be interesting and debatable – and have little to do with the economics of the industries involved or their revenue base. Continue Reading

FCC Fines iHeart Media $1,000,000 for Broadcasting EAS Alert Tones When there was No Emergency – What the Big Fine Says to Broadcasters

Posted in Emergency Communications, FCC Fines

One million dollars is still a big fine, even though the FCC has been handing out fines for that amount, or more, many times in recent months. But fines rarely hit these levels for broadcasters. But, yesterday, the FCC issued such a fine – hitting iHeart Media with a $1 Million fine as part of a Consent Decree imposed for the inappropriate use of EAS tones in the Bobby Bones syndicated radio program. The program was being run on 82 stations across the country. According to the FCC’s order approving the Consent Decree and imposing the associated fine and compliance plan, the broadcast of those tones triggered EAS alerts across several states – principally at stations and cable systems that had not activated the ability of the EAS system to recognize the date of an alert (the program rebroadcast the FCC’s first national EAS test, a test that was conducted almost 3 years before the Bones broadcast).

As with many other recent cases where the FCC has imposed heavy fines on broadcasters and cable programmers for use of EAS tones in entertainment broadcasts (see our articles here, here, here, and here tracing the history of the FCC’s escalating penalties for this kind of violation over the last few years), the FCC sees these matters as threats to public health and safety, as the public could react adversely to these EAS alerts that were not tied to real emergencies (or be desensitized by repeated false alerts to the importance of real alerts). The FCC’s News Release announcing the adoption of the Consent Decree makes exactly this point – the misuse of EAS alerts are threats to the public safety. Continue Reading

Preliminary Comments Sought by FCC on Proposal to Increase LPFM Power to 250 Watts and to Modify LPFM Translator Rules

Posted in FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM

Last week, the FCC formally announced its receipt of a proposal from REC Networks to raise the maximum power for LPFM stations from 100 watts to 250 watts, to give them equivalent power levels with FM translator stations. REC suggests that these higher power levels are necessary to allow LPFM stations to overcome the effects of multipath in their coverage areas, and to provide sufficient building penetration in more urban areas. The proposal (which is available here) also suggests other changes to the rules that apply to LPFM stations, including those dealing with interference protections between LPFM stations and FM translators, and the rules allowing the use of the FM translators by LPFM stations. The FCC notice is only an announcement that the proposal has been received. While comments can be filed within 30 days as to whether or not the FCC should move further to consider the issues raised in the Petition, any ultimate action should require that the FCC issue a formal Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to solicit comments on the specific proposals that the Commission deems potentially worthy of consideration.

Nevertheless, even though this is but a request for preliminary comments, broadcasters may want to consider commenting within the 30 days provided by the Commission as to whether or not this proposal should move forward. The proposals put forward in REC’s Petition are very detailed, and it provided significant backing information in support of its requests. The 250 watt proposal has many nuances – proposing that these upgrades be allowed, at least initially, only for already authorized LPFM stations as minor changes to their existing facilities. And the proposal would not expand the “buffer zones” adopted by the Commission when it first authorized LPFM stations – establishing mileage separation requirements between LPFM and full-power FM stations designed to protect the full-power station beyond its normally protected contour. REC suggests that, in most cases, the buffer zone provides too much protection to full-power stations, and that even at 250 watts, there should still be sufficient protection to full-power stations. Continue Reading