Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

Commercial Radio – Remember to Sign RMLC/SESAC Contract By March 26 to Get the Full Benefit of Arbitration Decision

Posted in Broadcast Performance Royalty, Intellectual Property, Music Rights

We wrote last summer about the substantial reductions in SESAC royalties that the Radio Music License Committee was able to achieve for commercial radio stations through a decision in its arbitration proceeding. RMLC recently sent out an email to all commercial stations that had authorized it to act on the stations’ behalf reminding them that, to get the full advantage of the retroactive discounting of the SESAC rates, stations need to sign the SESAC agreement by Monday, March 26. More information about this deadline and a link to the SESAC contract that needs to be signed can be found at the RMLC’s website, here. The arbitration award covers the license period 2016-2018, which is why there will be credits from SESAC for overpayments that stations made over the past two years. Also on the RMLC site is a link to an authorization form for future negotiations with SESAC for those stations that have not previously authorized RMLC to act on their behalf in SESAC matters. Act now to take advantage of these significant savings.

FCC Rules Relaxing AM Proofs of Performance Become Effective

Posted in AM Radio

In September 2017, the FCC adopted new rules making AM proofs of performance easier to conduct for many stations. We summarized the changes here, and wrote about the FCC’s adoption of these changes here. The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing that these rules have completed the review process under the Paperwork Reduction Act, and are now effective. Thus, stations can now take advantage of the simplified proofing options provided under these new rules.

FCC Adopts Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Looking to Simplify Sale of Satellite TV Stations

Posted in Assignments and Transfers, Multiple Ownership Rules, Television

At its open meeting yesterday, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to ease the paperwork involved in the sale of a satellite television station – i.e. a station, usually in a smaller market that is associated (and often rebroadcasts) another station in that market. As we wrote here when we summarized the draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released in anticipation of yesterday’s meeting, the Commission proposed to simplify the sale process by not requiring that a buyer prove that the conditions that initially warranted the operation of the station as a satellite not subject to the multiple ownership rules were still in place. That means that the parties to a proposed sale don’t have to search to see if there is a buyer who is willing to operate the satellite as an independent station, and don’t have to prove that the satellite station could not operate on its own – unless that premise is challenged during the course of the FCC’s review and approval of the proposed sale. Comments on this proposal will be due 30 days after this NPRM is published in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 15 days later.

With April Fools’ Day Coming Up, Plan Your On-Air Pranks with Care – Remember the FCC Hoax Rule

Posted in Emergency Communications, FCC Fines, General FCC, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism

With April Fools’ Day falling on a Sunday this year, perhaps the potential for on-air pranks is lessened. But, then again, who knows what weekend talent may be planning? So, as we do every year about is time, we need to play our role as attorneys and ruin the fun by repeating our reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other bits prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes. While issues under this rule can arise at any time, broadcaster’s temptation to go over the line is probably highest on April 1.  The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217, prevents stations from running any information about a “crime or catastrophe” on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is reasonably foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) public harm is in fact caused.  Public harm is defined as “direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties.”  Air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, and expect to be fined by the FCC.

This rule was adopted in the early 1990s after several incidents that were well-publicized in the broadcast industry, including one case where the on-air personalities at a station falsely claimed that they had been taken hostage, and another case where a station broadcast bulletins reporting that a local trash dump had exploded like a volcano and was spewing burning trash.  In both cases, first responders were notified about the non-existent emergencies, actually responded to the notices that listeners called in, and were prevented from responding to real emergencies.  In light of this sort of incident, the FCC adopted its prohibition against broadcast hoaxes.  But, as we’ve reminded broadcasters before, the FCC hoax rule is not the only reason to be wary on April 1.  Continue Reading

Using Copyrighted Content on a Website – Including News Articles and Videos – Secure the Rights!

Posted in Intellectual Property, On Line Media, Website Issues

In recent weeks, I have had several calls from broadcasters asking if it was permissible to copy articles from other news sources and post them on the station website – with attribution to the original source. As I told them, posting content without permission of the copyright holder can lead to big problems. We have written about these issues in connection with the use of photos and video (see, for instance, our articles here, here and here), and recently even using embedded photos from a social media site have been called into question (see our article here). The copying of any substantial part of a news article raises the same issues as posting pictures or video found on the Internet onto your site. Such actions diminish the ability to of the content’s owner to profit from its own content. If someone can read a story on a broadcaster’s website, why would they need to go to the site of the originator of that content – even where attribution to the originating site (and even a link to that site) is given on the broadcaster’s site?

Years ago, there were many websites that would “aggregate” news by taking significant portions of news stories from other sites and make it available to the aggregator’s readers. There was a rash of lawsuits where content owners, including newspapers and others, claimed that aggregators using even a paragraph or two of the original story were infringing on their rights to their content. Content owners had real concerns about this aggregation sites, as a reader can usually get the gist of the story from the introductory paragraphs and, even when the aggregator provided a link to the full story, the readers would be far less likely to go to the full story when they had already been given its substance. Today, to avoid these lawsuits, most such news aggregators provide at most a headline (and sometimes even the headline can be creative enough to pose a copyright risk if run on an aggregator’s site – so just a generic paraphrase of that headline is often used), and at most a very brief description of the story on the originating site – a description that only directs the users of the aggregator site to the originating site and does not use any of the originating story’s language or original reporting, e.g. a statement that “you can find a good story about Virginia’s collapse in the NCAA tournament in this story” or “for more developments on latest in the personnel changes in the Trump Administration, check out this story in the Washington Post.” Using more than this kind of generic referral is a risk, and fair use is no often going to be available as a defense. Continue Reading

FCC Announces Dates for Submitting “Long-Form” Applications by AM Stations that Filed for New FM Translators in Second Translator Window

Posted in AM Radio, Broadcast Auctions, FM Translators and LPFM

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing a filing window from April 18 through May 9 for “long-form” applications for new translators that were filed in the January 2018 window for Class A and B AM stations to seek new FM translators to rebroadcast their stations. The Public Notice also sets out the procedures for filing in this window. The window is for the filing of a complete Form 349 applications by applicants who were deemed to be “singletons,” i.e. their applications are not predicted to cause interference to any other translator applicant. The list of singletons is here.  The long-form application requires more certifications and technical information than that which was submitted during the initial filing window.

After the long-form application is submitted to the FCC, the application will be published in an FCC public notice of broadcast applications. Interested parties will have 15 days from that publication date to comment or object. If no comments are filed, and no other issues arise, the FCC’s Audio Division is known for its speed in processing translator applications so that grants might be expected for many of the applications within 60 days of the end of the window. Continue Reading

Solve for “X”:  NFL is to Super Bowl® as USOC is to Olympics® as NCAA is to X® (There Is More Than One Correct Answer!) – Trademarks and March Madness

Posted in Advertising Issues, Trademark

It was almost exactly one year ago that we reported that the National Collegiate Athletic Association filed a trademark infringement action in federal court against a company that ran online sports-themed promotions and sweepstakes under the marks “April Madness” and “Final 3.”  The NCAA prevailed because the defendant entered into an agreement not to use the marks, but failed to file an answer to the complaint.  A default judgment was entered.  On February 23, 2018, the NCAA filed a motion requesting an an award of attorneys’ fees against the defendant in the amount of $242,213.55.

The amount of attorneys’ fees incurred in a case that was resolved with relatively little resistance illustrates the level of importance that the NCAA places on taking action against activities that “play off” the NCAA Collegiate Basketball Playoffs.  Clearly, such activities continue to carry great risks.  Accordingly, following is an updated version of last year’s blog post on this subject.

With the NCAA Basketball Tournament about to begin, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use terms and logos associated with the tournament, including March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four® or Elite Eight,® each of which is a federally registered trademark. Continue Reading

Copyright Office Grants Second Extension of Comment Dates in Proceeding Looking at MVPD Reporting Obligations and the Definition of Cable System

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

In December, we wrote about a proceeding initiated by the Copyright Office to review the reporting obligations of cable and satellite television systems related to the statutory license that permits those systems to carry the programming of local television stations.  Systems must report information including revenue and subscriber information that allow royalties to be computed.  This proceeding also asked for comments on the Copyright Office’s tentative conclusion that the Copyright Act’s definition of a cable system did not extend to online services, like those that had been proposed by Aereo and FilmOn.  The Copyright Office has announced a second extension of time to file comments in this proceeding.  Comments are now due June 14, with replies due on July 6, 2018.

It’s Political Broadcasting Season Again – What Broadcast Stations Should Be Thinking About Now, Before the Lowest Unit Rate Windows Open

Posted in Uncategorized

This week’s political primaries in Texas are but the first of many more election contests that will occur between now and November. Already, we are receiving client calls about the political rules, how they should be applied, and what stations should be considering in anticipation of the upcoming elections. I’ve discussed the general FCC issues to be considered by broadcasters in many different ways. In January, I conducted a webinar for two state broadcast associations on these issues, following a similar webinar that I conducted with the head of the FCC’s office of political programming back in November for about 20 additional state associations. The slides from the most recent webinar are available here. Our firm also has available a Guide to Political Broadcasting, here, that provides information about many topics that come up in this area every year. But, with the election still months away, and in many states primaries that don’t occur until the summer, are there issues that broadcasters should be considering today?

Yes – there are many such issues that broadcasters should be considering immediately. As we wrote here prior to the last Presidential election, it is important to start planning early for an election. As that article details, and as set out in our Political Broadcasting guide, there is much planning for lowest unit rates that needs to take place now – before the actual windows (45 days before the primary and 60 days before the general election) in which those rates apply. Stations are likely selling advertising schedules that will run during the windows later this year, and they are putting together advertising packages that will be offered to commercial advertisers during the window. Consideration needs to be given now as to how that advertising will be treated to avoid unwanted lowest unit rate implications during the window. Continue Reading

Next Media Regulation Modernization Item – Easing Transfer of Satellite TV Stations

Posted in Assignments and Transfers, Multiple Ownership Rules, Television

The FCC last week released its tentative agenda for its March open meeting. On it was a single item dealing with broadcast issues, a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to ease the paperwork involved in the sale of a satellite TV station. This item is another action as part of its Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative seeking to lessen the paperwork and regulatory burdens of broadcasters. Similar to other actions taken as part of this initiative (see our article here), this proposal is a small step to reduce burdens on a small class of broadcasters – but at least it is another step that is being taken in this initiative. The draft proposal will be considered at the FCC’s meeting scheduled for March 22.

Under current FCC rules, the FCC will authorize an owner to acquire a second full-power television station in a market, a station which will not count against FCC ownership limits, if the applicant can meet a three part test – (1) the station will not have city-grade overlap with the “parent” station, (2) the satellite station will serve an underserved area, and (3) a showing is made that there is no other owner ready to acquire an existing station or activate an unused channel and operate it as a stand-alone station. Satellite television stations were traditionally used in geographically-expansive rural markets to expand the coverage of a parent station to reach outlying areas. In more recent years, as the Commission abolished the requirement that the satellite primarily duplicate the programming of the parent station, these stations have sometimes been used to provide alternate programming in smaller markets unable to economically support an independent operation. The draft NPRM released by the FCC seeks to address the issue of what happens when such stations are sold. Continue Reading