Last year’s Court of Appeals decision on Internet radio royalties for 2006-2010 remanded one issue to the Copyright Royalty Board for further consideration – the issue of the minimum annual fee to be paid by each webcaster. The Copyright Royalty Judges (“CRJs”) had decided on a $500 per channel minimum fee – a fee that created much concern in the Internet radio community as there was no clear delineation of what a channel was. For services, like Pandora, where there is a unique stream created for each listener, by some definitions there could be an almost infinite number of channels all subject to the $500 minimum fee. Following the CRB's initial decision, a number of the larger webcasters and SoundExchange entered into a settlement capping the minimum fee obligation at $50,000 per webcaster per year. Thus, services with more than 100 channels would only pay a minimum fee of $50,000 at the beginning of each year. However, this settlement was never extended to all webcasters - it applied only to those webcasters who signed the deal. Following the Court remand, SoundExchange and DiMA (the Digital Media Association which represents many webcasters), submitted the 2007 settlement to the CRB to be codified into the rules that govern webcasters generally. Just before Christmas, the CRJs asked for comments on that settlement. Comments are due by January 22.
In many cases, this settlement has been superseded by subsequent events – namely the settlements with webcasters that were entered into in February and then later in the summer under the provisions of the Webcaster Settlement Acts. Settlements with broadcasters, pureplay webcasters, small commercial webcasters and various noncommercial groups all set their own minimum fees (and, for the most part, cover the periods through 2015), and thus this proceeding is largely irrelevant to these webcasters. If this settlement is approved, the only remaining question before the CRJs on the remand of the 2006-2010 proceeding will be the minimum fee for some noncommercial groups that did not enter into any settlement, as this agreement on minimum fees applies only to commercial webcasters.
It is interesting to note that these minimum fees will finally be set in 2010 – the last year of the current license term, and will establish minimum fees that are due in January of each year (though these fees will no doubt be set after the last January in the term). The whole issue will have to be revisited for the 2011-2015 period in the proceeding that is currently underway to set the royalties for that period. Stay tuned for more information about that proceeding, which should be decided later in 2010.