Yesterday, it was announced that the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) settled its lawsuit with SESAC (see the press release here, and the full agreement here), where the RMLC had charged that SESAC’s practices in collecting its music royalties from the radio industry violated the antitrust laws (we wrote about the filing of the lawsuit here). While there was no admission of guilt by SESAC, it did agree that, between now and 2037, it will negotiate royalties with RMLC on an industry wide basis (up to now, SESAC could negotiate on a station-by-station basis). If RMLC and SESAC can’t agree to a royalty, the royalty rate will be set by an arbitrator – and past SESAC royalties would not have any precedential value in such proceedings (broadcasters have contended that past SESAC rates are far more, in comparison to those charged by ASCAP and BMI, then would be warranted based on the percentage of music from SESAC writers that is played on most radio stations). In subjecting SESAC to industry-wide negotiations and potential arbitration, the settlement is very similar to the deal reached in antitrust litigation between SESAC and the TV Music License Committee (about which we wrote here).

The settlement also tracks the structure of RMLC agreements with ASCAP and BMI (see our articles here and here) in that future SESAC licenses will cover broadcasters not only for their over-the-air programming, but also for their Internet streams and their HD channels (which were charged separately by SESAC for many stations). However, the agreement provides that the unitary license should not diminish the total royalties that would have been paid by the industry to SESAC if these rates were negotiated separately.   In other words, the effect of the unitary license is simply administrative convenience – everything is covered by a single license, so each station does not need multiple licenses from SESAC for its normal broadcast activities. However, unlike the ASCAP and BMI agreements, this agreement puts limits on this unified coverage for a broadcaster’s business that is outside the retransmission of the broadcaster’s over-the-air signals, excluding on-demand subscription services (presumably ruling out Rdio, in which Cumulus has an interest, from being covered by the radio license), and also excluding music-intensive custom radio, specifically ruling out Pandora and iHeartRadio from relying on this license for their online services. The agreement also says that other music users that are not primarily radio operators cannot get coverage for these other non-broadcast businesses simply by buying a radio station. What else does the agreement provide?
Continue Reading Radio Music License Committee Settles Antitrust Suit Against SESAC – What Does it Mean for the Radio Industry?

Last month, we wrote about the FCC issues facing broadcasters in 2015.  Today, we’ll look at decisions that may come in other venues that could affect broadcasters and media companies in the remaining 11 months of 2015.  There are many actions in courts, at government agencies and in Congress that could change law or policy and affect operations of media companies in some way.  These include not just changes in communications policies directly, but also changes in copyright and other laws that could have a significant impact on the operations of all sorts of companies operating in the media world.

Starting with FCC issues in the courts, there are two significant proceedings that could affect FCC issues. First, there is the appeal of the FCC’s order setting the rules for the incentive auction.  Both Sinclair and the NAB have filed appeals that have been consolidated into a single proceeding, and briefing on the appeals has been completed, with oral arguments to follow in March.  The appeals challenge both the computation of allowable interference after the auction and more fundamental issues as to whether an auction is even permissible when there is only one station in a market looking to give up their channel.     The Court has agreed to expedite the appeal so as to not unduly delay the auction, so we should see a decision by mid-year that could tell us whether or not the incentive auction will take place on time in early 2016.
Continue Reading What Washington Has in Store for Broadcasters and Digital Media Companies in 2015 – Part 2 – Court Cases, Congressional Communications and Copyright Reform, and Other Issues

This week, several notices of the intent to audit the records of several webcasters and other digital music services were published in the Federal Register, indicating that SoundExchange was planning on having the royalty payment records of these services reviewed.  Notices were sent to services including Live365, iHeartMedia and CBS).  Those notices have prompted several calls asking what this is all about.  We have written before about these audits (see our article here).  It is a somewhat routine process, where each year SoundExchange picks several webcasters whose records it will have reviewed.  Under the rules adopted by the Copyright Royalty Board, SoundExchange can elect to audit a webcaster (or other digital music service – and some of the notices this week were for services that were not webcasters – one to a background music provider or what is referred to as a “business establishment service”, here).  SoundExchange can, and usually does, elect to review three years of records.  They can only review any service once for the same time period, so effectively a service can be audited only once every three years.

Under the rules, an independent CPA is to do the audit.  Once the audit is complete, it must be provided to the music service for comment.  Then, it is up to SoundExchange and the service to work out what to do if there are discrepancies identified by the audit with which the service does not agree.  The rules do not provide for any independent adjudicator to referee what happens if there is a disagreement.  SoundExchange pays for the audit, unless the audit determines that the service underpaid by 10% or more, in which case the costs can be transferred to the service.
Continue Reading SoundExchange to Audit iHeart, CBS and Other Webcasters and Digital Music Services

This week brings news that a Virginia broadcaster has brought suit to have a court declare that broadcasters who stream their signal on the Internet, but limit the reception of the signal to within 150 miles of their transmitter site, should not have to pay royalties to SoundExchange.  As we have written before, when Congress adopted the digital performance royalty for sound recordings in the late 1990s, there was an absolute exemption from the sound recording performance royalty for broadcast transmissions, embodied in Section 114(d)(1)(A).  That exemption is not limited by the 150 mile rule.  However, there is another section of the law, Section 114(d)(1)(B), that also exempted from royalty payments retransmissions of broadcast transmissions.  The law exempted from the 150 mile limit those retransmissions done by other broadcast stations.  Thus, FM translators, for instance, can rebroadcast their primary station beyond the 150 mile rule without triggering a sound recording performance royalty.  So what was the section on the 150 mile zone for retransmissions intended to cover?

This issue was raised back in the early days of webcasting, when questions were raised as to whether simulcasting of broadcast transmissions were covered by the 150 mile rule.  There was some thought that it was in the early days of Internet radio.  In the first webcasting decision (the one conducted by a Copyright Arbitration Panel – or CARP, before the Copyright Royalty Board came into existence), evidence was cited that Yahoo! Music, growing out of Mark Cuban’s Braodcast.com which built its business on the retransmission of broadcast station’s over-the-air signals, had set up its royalty structure negotiated with the record labels to take into account that broadcast simulcasts would be exempt.  But the Librarian of Congress issued a ruling rejecting that premise for a number of reasons.  See the decision here.  These included that, because Internet retransmissions of broadcast signals could not be geographically limited, they could not be encompassed within the 150 mile exception of 114(d)(1)(B).  The Librarian read the exception as encompassing only retransmissions that could be limited to being wholly within the 150 mile zone.  The Librarian also looked at Section 112, and did not find a similar exception in that section which grants a statutory license for the ephemeral copies made in certain transmissions, and thought that such an exemption would be necessary for the retransmission of broadcast signals on the Internet. (We have discussed ephemeral rights before, see e.g. here and here). There the issue sat until the case filed last week.
Continue Reading Broadcaster Asks Court to Declare that Internet Simulcasts of Radio Station Exempt From SoundExchange Royalties If Geo-Limited to a 150 Mile Zone

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the most immediate part of the FCC’s plan for the revitalization of AM radio – providing more FM translators for AM stations.  As the FCC has just announced the deadline dates for the filing of public comments on the reform proposals, setting the comment deadline for January 21 and the reply comment deadline on February 18, we thought that it was time to return to the subject to address some of the FCC’s other proposals.  As we mentioned in passing in our last article, the other proposals do not address any fundamental change in the AM service or anything that will necessarily help to overcome the interference issues that have made life difficult for many AM stations in an urban environment.  Instead, they look at ways to make current AM station operations easier.  In some ways, the order almost looks to be looking for ways to stem the loss of AM stations until a long-term  solution for the saving the service can be devised.

Revitalizing AM radio is not easy.  As the oldest radio service, the very things that made it attractive to the early days of radio – being able to reach vast areas of the country – now create problems.  The fact that AM stations have “skywave” signals that bounce off the atmosphere and travel hundreds, even thousands of miles, especially at night, also mean that their signals interfere with other stations on the same frequencies thousands of miles from their transmitter sites.  And, as more and more electronic “noise” has entered the environment, from relatively new technologies including florescent light bulbs to garage door openers and other wireless remote control devices, AM signals have proved to be especially susceptible to interference from these sources, especially in urban environments.  These problems are difficult to address without fundamental changes in the service.  But some quick fixes are possible to address more short-term needs of AM operators, and these are the kinds of issues addressed in the new rulemaking.
Continue Reading FCC Proposals for AM Radio Part 2 – Comment Deadline Dates, Site Moves and Unaddressed Questions

All commercial broadcasters (AM/FM/TV and even LPTV) have to file their Biennial Ownership Reports on December 1, beginning a very busy month in the broadcaster’s regulatory world.  December 1 is also the deadline for noncommercial ownership reports to be filed by noncommercial radio stations in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, and noncommercial television stations in Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota (see our Advisory here)Annual EEO Public File reports are also due to be in station files for stations in all of the states where noncommercial stations have ownership filings (see our Advisory on the EEO Public File Report here).  License renewals for radio broadcasters in Georgia and Alabama are also due on that date (see our License Renewal advisory here) , as are the Commission’s cut of the ancillary and supplementary revenues made by digital television broadcasters (our summary here).  And all full-power broadcasters need to file their reports on the results of the recent Nationwide EAS Test by December 27 (see our post here).

December also brings a Commission meeting, at which the CALM Act rules will be adopted according to the tentative agenda for the December 12 meeting.   The CALM Act is intended to eliminate loud commercials.  These rules are required by statute to be adopted in December (see our summary of the proposed rules here).  Comments on a number of other FCC proposals in rulemaking proceedings are also due. The FCC just announced  that comments in the proceeding to determine if FM digital operations using the IBOC technology (so-called HD Radio) can operate with different power levels on each side of the main channel are due by December 19 (see our summary of this proceeding here). Comments on the controversial proposal for the online public inspection file for television stations are due on December 22.


Continue Reading December 1 Deadline for Biennial Ownership Reports Begins A Busy Regulatory Month for Broadcasters

The FCC adopted rules for the digital operation of FM radio stations (known as HD Radio or the Ibiquity In Band On Channel system – IBOC for short) in 2007 and allowed the Media Bureau to amend those rules as technical developments warranted.  In 2010, the Bureau authorized an increase in the power level of the digital portion of

In a recent decision, the FCC made clear that analog FM translators can rebroadcast the signal of a HD digital multicast channel from a commonly owned FM station.  For months, broadcasters have been introducing "new" FM stations to their communities via translators rebroadcasting HD-2 signals which are broadcast digitally on a primary FM station, and available only to those who have purchased HD radio receivers.  In the decision that was just released, the Commission’s staff rejected an objection to the use of an FM translator taking a signal that can only be heard on a digital HD Radio and turning it into an analog signal capable of being received on any FM receiver.  In this case, the broadcaster rebroadcast his AM station on the FM HD station so that it could then be rebroadcast on the FM translator.  But, even if the HD multicast channel was a totally independent station that could otherwise only be heard on an HD digital radio, it could be rebroadcast on the FM translator and received by anyone with an FM radio in the limited area served by the translator station. 

The Commission did make clear, however, that a broadcaster cannot use another station owner’s HD multicast channel and rebroadcast that on a translator if the broadcaster already owned the maximum number of stations allowed by the multiple ownership rules.  In other words, if a broadcaster is allowed by the multiple ownership rules to own 4 FM stations in a market, it could put a fifth (low power) FM signal in that market through the use of an FM translator rebroadcasting one of its own HD multicast signals.  However, if it had not itself converted its FM stations to digital so that it had its own multicast abilities, it could not do a time brokerage agreement and program the multicast signal of another broadcaster in town who had installed the digital equipment needed to do such multicasts.  An LMA or time brokerage agreement with another station for use of an HD multicast channel counts for multiple ownership purposes in the same way that such a programming agreement would if it provided for programming of a primary analog  FM station. 


Continue Reading FM Analog Translator Can Rebroadcast FM Digital Multicast Programming – Opportunities for New Signals in Local Markets