The broadcast trade press is full today with the news that NAB CEO Gordon Smith will be stepping back from that position at the end of the year, to be replaced by current COO (and former head of Government Relations) Curtis LeGeyt.  As many will remember, Smith took over the organization over a decade ago during a turbulent time for the industry.  At the time, TV stations faced increasing calls for other uses of the broadcast spectrum, and radio stations faced a possible performance royalty on their over-the-air broadcasts of sound recordings.  Since then, through all sorts of issues, there has been a general consensus in the industry that its leadership was in capable hands and meeting the issues as they arose.

But many issues remain for broadcasters – some of them ones that have never gone away completely.  The sound recording performance royalty for over-the-air broadcasting remains an issue, as do other music licensing issues calling for changes to the way that songwriters and composers are compensated, generally calling for higher payments or different compensation systems (see our articles here on the GMR controversy and here on the review of music industry antitrust consent decrees).  TV stations, while having gone through the incentive auction giving up significant parts of the TV broadcast spectrum, still face demands by wireless operators and others hungry for more spectrum to provide the many in-demand services necessary to meet the need for faster mobile services (see our articles here on C-Band redeployment and here on requests for a set aside of TV spectrum for unlicensed wireless users).  But competition from digital services may well be the biggest current issue facing broadcasters.
Continue Reading With a Change at the Top at the NAB as CEO Gordon Smith Plans His Departure – What are the Regulatory Issues That are Facing Broadcasters?

Last week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued an Advisory reminding broadcasters about their obligation to provide sponsorship identification information to their audiences whenever they receive something of value in exchange for airing any programming.  The Enforcement Bureau’s advisory was quite concise, basically just reminding broadcasters of their sponsorship identification obligations.  But the FCC also highlighted two other issues – (1) that broadcasters have an obligation to exercise reasonable diligence to make sure that any third-party program providers also include sponsorship identification when they are paid to include material in programs that they provide to the station and (2) the FCC can impose substantial fines on stations that do not live up to these obligations.

On the question of exercising reasonable diligence in insuring that program providers meet the sponsorship identification obligations, the FCC pointed to this language form Section 317(c) of the Communications Act:

The licensee of each radio station shall exercise reasonable diligence to obtain from its employees, and from other persons with whom it deals directly in connection with any program or program matter for broadcast, information to enable such licensee to make the announcement required by this section.

This means that a broadcaster needs to ask any party providing syndicated programming to a station to ensure that the rules are met.  The same obligation would apply to time brokers who place programming on the station.  The station owner needs to be sure that these programmers are aware of their obligations under the sponsorship identification rules, and that they observe those obligations.  Reminders to program providers, and review of the programs that they provide, would seem to be part of this reasonable diligence obligation.  We have previously written about this requirement – see for instance our article here.
Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminder On Sponsorship Identification Requirements – Including Obligation to Ensure Syndicated and Brokered Program Providers Comply With the Rules

Yesterday, I wrote about the history of the NCAA’s assembling of the rights to an array of trademarks associated with this month’s basketball tournament.  Today, I will provide some examples of the activities that can bring unwanted NCAA attention to your operations.

Activities that May Result in a Demand Letter from the NCAA

The NCAA acknowledges that media entities can sell advertising that accompanies the entity’s coverage of the NCAA championships.  However, similar to my discussion earlier this year on the use of Super Bowl trademarks (see here) and my 2018 discussion on the use of Olympics trademarks (see here), unless authorized by the NCAA, any of the following activities may result in a cease and desist demand:

  • accepting advertising that refers to the NCAA, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, March Madness, The Big Dance, Final Four, Elite Eight or any other NCAA trademark or logo (The NCAA has posted a list of its trademarks here.)
    • Example: An ad from a retailer with the headline, “Buy A New Big Screen TV in Time to Watch March Madness.”
  • local programming that uses any NCAA trademark as part of its name
    • Example: A locally produced program previewing the tournament called “The Big Dance:  Pick a Winning Bracket.”
  • selling the right to sponsor the overall coverage by a broadcaster, website or print publication of the tournament
    • Example: During the sports segment of the local news, introducing the section of the report on tournament developments as “March Madness, brought to you by [name of advertiser].”
  • sweepstakes or giveaways that include any NCAA trademark in its name (see here)
    • Example: “The Final Four Giveaway.”
  • sweepstakes or giveaways that offer tickets to a tournament game as a prize
    • Example: even if the sweepstakes name is not a problem, offering game tickets as a prize will raise an objection by the NCAA.
  • events or parties that use any NCAA trademark to attract guests
    • Example: a radio station sponsors a happy hour where fans can watch a tournament game, with any NCAA marks and prominently placed on signage.
  • advertising that wishes or congratulates a team, or its coach or players, on success in the tournament
    • Example: “[Advertiser name] wishes [Name of Coach] and the 2020 [Name of Team] success in the NCAA tournament!”

There is one more common pitfall that is unique to the NCAA Basketball:  tournament brackets used in office pools where participants predict the winners of each game in advance of the tournament.  The NCAA’s position (see here) is that the unauthorized placement of advertising within an NCAA bracket or corporate sponsorship of a tournament bracket is misleading and constitutes an infringement of its intellectual property rights.  Accordingly, it says that any advertising should be outside of the bracket space and should clearly indicate that the advertiser or its goods or services are not sponsored by, approved by or otherwise associated with the NCAA or its championship tournament.
Continue Reading March Madness Trademarks:  Tips To Avoid A Foul Call from the NCAA (2021 Update – Part 2)

Part 1 of my 2020 annual update on the use of trademarks associated with the NCAA Basketball Tournament was published on the same day that the NCAA announced it was cancelling the tournament due to the pandemic.  Fortunately for all concerned (the players, fans, the NCAA and the broadcasters), it appears that the tournament will proceed as scheduled, with the first men’s games beginning on March 18 and the first women’s games beginning on March 21.  Accordingly, this discussion should hold greater interest than it did last year.

So, with the tournament about to begin, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use of terms and logos associated with the tournament, including the well-known marks March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four®, Women’s Final Four®, Elite Eight,® and The Road to the Final Four® (with and without the word “The”), each of which is a federally registered trademark.  The NCAA does not own “Sweet Sixteen – someone else does – but it does have federal registrations for NCAA Sweet Sixteen® and NCAA Sweet 16®.

The NCAA also has federal registrations for some lesser known marks, including March Mayhem®, March Is On®, Midnight Madness®, Selection Sunday®, 68 Teams, One Dream®, And Then There Were Four®, and NCAA Fast Break®.

Some of these marks are used to promote the basketball tournament or the coverage of the tournament, while others are used on merchandise, such as t-shirts.  The NCAA also uses (or licenses) variations on these marks without seeking registration, but it can claim common law rights in those marks, such as March Madness Live, March Madness Music Festival and Final Four Fan Fest.
Continue Reading March Madness Trademarks: Tips To Avoid A Foul Call from the NCAA (2021 Update – Part 1)

Here are some of the regulatory developments of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • Often when a new administration takes over and a new Chairperson is installed at the FCC, some of the agency’s

For the last five years, I have posted guidelines about engaging in or accepting advertising or promotions that directly or indirectly reference the Super Bowl without a license from the NFL.  As hard as it may be to believe, the NFL has almost made its way this season to another championship game, so here is an updated version of my prior posts.

The Super Bowl means big bucks.  It is estimated that each of the three television networks that broadcasts the Super Bowl pays the NFL over $1 billion per year for the right to broadcast NFL games through 2022, including the right to broadcast the big game on a rotating basis once every three years.  The investment seems to pay off for the networks.  Reportedly, it cost $5.6 M for a 30-second spot during last year’s Super Bowl broadcast and national advertising revenue totaled $448.7 M, not counting income from ads during any pre-game or post-game programming.  (In addition to the sums paid to have their commercials aired, some advertisers spend millions of dollars to produce an ad.)  In addition, the NFL receives hundreds of millions of dollars from licensing the use of the SUPER BOWL trademark and logo.

Given the value of the Super Bowl franchise, it is not surprising that the NFL is extremely aggressive in protecting its golden goose from anything it views as unauthorized efforts to trade off the goodwill associated with the mark or the game.  Accordingly, with the coin toss almost upon us, advertisers should take special care before publishing or engaging in advertising or other promotional activities that refer to the Super Bowl.  Broadcasters and news publishers have greater latitude than other businesses, but still need to be wary of engaging in activities that the NFL may view as trademark or copyright infringement.  (These risks also apply to other named sporting events, for example, making use of the terms “Final Four” or “March Madness” in connection with the annual NCAA Basketball Tournament.)
Continue Reading Stay A Lot More Than Six Feet From The NFL’s Trademarks!  2021 Update on Super Bowl Advertising and Promotions

Here are some of the regulatory developments of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.  We also note an upcoming event to which broadcasters will want to pay attention.

  • After a multi-year review of the

After this year’s contentious elections, it is with reluctance that we even broach the subject – but broadcasters and cable companies need to be aware that in many jurisdictions there are elections this November. While most broadcast stations don’t think about the FCC’s political broadcasting rules in odd numbered years, they should – particularly in connection with state and local political offices.  There are elections for governor in November in Virginia and New Jersey, and all sorts of state and local elections in different parts of the country.  These include some mayoral races in major US cities.  Some of these local elections don’t even occur in November – and there are even a few that are taking place as early as next month. As we have written before, most of the political rules apply to these state and local electoral races so broadcasters need to be paying attention.

Whether the race is for governor or much more locally focused, like elections for state legislatures, school boards or town councils, stations need to be prepared. Candidates for state and local elections are entitled to virtually all of the political broadcasting rights of Federal candidates – with one exception, the right of reasonable access which is reserved solely for Federal candidates. That means that only Federal candidates have the right to demand access to all classes and dayparts of advertising time that a broadcast station has to sell. As we wrote in our summary of reasonable access, here, that does not mean that Federal candidates can demand as much time as they want, only that stations must sell them a reasonable amount of advertising during the various classes of advertising time sold on the station. For state and local candidates, on the other hand, stations don’t need to sell the candidates any advertising time at all. But, if they do, the other political rules apply.
Continue Reading Reminder – 2021 Will Include Some Off-Year Elections for State and Local Office – and FCC Political Broadcasting Rules Do Apply

Here are some of the regulatory developments in the last two weeks of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The FCC released an order revising its fees for broadcast applications and other filings. The fees were adjusted to

Just before Christmas, the Federal Trade Commission issued consent decrees with six companies resolving proceedings alleging that their marketing of CBD products was deceptive.  The consent decrees included monetary penalties as high as $80,000 and compliance plans to ensure that the named companies would not engage in future marketing of unproven health benefits of CBD products.  The FTC issued a press release on the consent decrees (links to the decrees and related documents can be found on the same webpage as the press release).

Some of the health claims that the FTC found problematic were very specific, suggesting that CBD could aid in the treatment of specific diseases and medical conditions.  Other claims found to be improper included more general claims that CBD was effective for “pain relief” and that the products are safe for all users.  As noted in the FTC documents, only proven health claims for CBD can be included in marketing material – and so far, the proven health benefits have been limited to those provided by specific FDA-approved anti-seizure medications.  While these decrees were with companies selling CBD products, rather than media companies that ran their ads, as we have noted before, broadcasters and other media companies should be alert to advertising messages that exceed permissible guidelines.  While the FDA has promised further guidance on the sale and marketing of CBD products, action has likely been stalled by the agency’s concentration on pandemic-related issues. 
Continue Reading More FTC Consent Decrees Emphasize Prohibitions on Advertising of Unproven Health Benefits of CBD Products