The Copyright Office this week granted a request from the Copyright Royalty Board for more time to decide on the royalties to be paid to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings by webcasters, including broadcasters who simulcast their programming on the Internet. As we wrote in July, the CRB decision on the webcasting royalties for 2021-2025 was initially to be rendered by the end of 2020 to be in place when the prior royalty term concluded at the end of 2020. Because of COVID, the trial to determine the royalties was pushed from March back into August and September, with final arguments not being held until November. Congress in its initial COVID relief bill authorized agencies to extend times to take certain actions – and the Copyright Office in July extended the time for the CRB webcasting decision to April 15. Now, given the delays in the trial, the Copyright Royalty Judges asked for an additional two months – and were granted an extension until June 14.
Once decided, these royalties will be retroactive to January 1, 2021. If the rates go up, as advocated by SoundExchange, webcasters will have to “true up” on their royalties and pay any increases back to the first of the year. If broadcasters and other internet radio operators prevail in their arguments and the rates are lowered, then presumably these services would have credits toward future royalties based on any overpayment made at the old rates since January 1. All companies providing a non-interactive internet music service should be watching for the CRB action to see what obligations they will have not only retroactive to the beginning of the year, but also going forward through the end of 2025, the end of the royalty period now being considered.