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

Global Music Rights (GMR) has sued three radio groups for allegedly playing GMR catalog songs but not paying the associated public performance royalties to GMR.  As we have written many times, GMR is a performing rights organization (a “PRO”) representing what they term in the complaints filed against these companies “an elite roster of just over 100 songwriters.” The complaints specifically note that the songwriters include Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, Drake, Pharrell Williams, John Lennon, and The Eagles.  The full list of songwriters and songs represented by GMR is available on their website here.  As these songwriters are no longer represented by ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, for a company to publicly perform any of these songwriters’ music, they either need a license from GMR or they need to directly license the music from the songwriters or their agents (or fit into one of the limited exemptions that we wrote about here, exceptions that would typically not cover commercial radio broadcasting).

The lawsuits seek $150,000 for each copyrighted work that was allegedly infringed – the maximum set out by the Copyright Act for “statutory damages,” i.e., damages that can be collected even without providing evidence of actual harm caused by the alleged copyright infringement. The allegations against one of the companies suggest that the company played over 100 GMR compositions more than 20,000 times without obtaining a license.  While courts have discretion to order far lower statutory damages than those being sought here, even the threat of such damages has been enough to put many of the original file-sharing music sites out of business. Of course, in this case, these damages are being sought not from some company that provides unauthorized, unlimited downloads of copyrighted music, but from radio companies that presumably are already paying other performing rights organizations for the use of music.
Continue Reading Lawsuits Filed Against Three Radio Companies Alleging That They are Playing Global Music Rights Songwriters Without a License – Background for the GMR Claims  

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

  • Revisions to the pending Journalism Competition and Preservation Act were released to the public this week (revised draft bill

Recent press reports have talked much about a Texas church that decided to put on a production of the musical Hamilton – both live and streamed via YouTube.  The church not only put on the performance of the musical, but also adapted the script to include material with religious themes not included in the original version.  Lin-Manual Miranda, the creator of the musical, was reported to say that, following the discovery of the unauthorized performances, “now the lawyers do their work.”  But just what did the church do wrong?  This case serves as an illustration of how copyright issues pervade society – and these issues are often ignored until an improper use is discovered by a rightsholder or their representative. At that point, the user often gets a quick education in the significant potential penalties they face from ignoring the law.

Like all other copyrighted works, among the rights given to creators of a musical like Hamilton is the right to consent to the public performance of that work.  We have written how that right to consent to public performances is in some cases restricted by statutory or blanket licenses, where the government (either directly, through the Copyright Royalty Board for public performances of sound recordings and the use of musical compositions by noncommercial broadcasters, or indirectly through antitrust consent decrees or settlement agreements that apply to ASCAP, BMI and, in some instances, SESAC – see our article here on some of the issues with these rights).  There are other statutory licenses giving, for instance, cable and satellite television providers the rights to retransmit broadcast stations in exchange for the payment of statutorily set fees (see our articles here and here for some examples of the issues with these statutory licenses). For most other copyrighted works, like plays and musicals, that right to restrict the public performance of a work is not restricted by statutory licenses.  And the writers of theatrical works are diligent in enforcing their copyrights.  So every junior high school performance of The Music Man, or community theater performance of Rent, should be licensed by the representatives of the copyright holders in these works.
Continue Reading A Church Gets Called Out for Adaptation of “Hamilton” – Looking at the Copyright Issues

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

A new Chief Copyright Royalty Judge of the Copyright Royalty Board has just been named by the Librarian of Congress.  According to the Press Release announcing his appointment, David Shaw will fill that position after having previously served as an administrative law judge on the International Trade Commission for over 10 years.  There, he heard complex cases dealing with detailed financial matters – experience that sounds relevant to the kinds of cases he will be deciding on the CRB.  The Copyright Royalty Judges decide cases determining the marketplace value of music when  setting royalty rates, and that look at the relative value of programming when deciding the distribution of cable royalties to program copyright holders.  In addition to ITC experience, Shaw was a judge at the Social Security Administration and, according to his biography, worked in the General Counsel’s office at NPR early in his career.  With the appointment of this new Chief Judge, we thought that it would be worth looking at some of the specific areas in which the CRB makes decisions that affect media companies.

The CRB is principally charged with rates and distributions for copyrights governed by a “statutory licenses.”  A statutory license is created by Congress when it is believed that individual negotiations between copyright holders and copyright users would either be unduly complex so as to be almost unworkable or where an efficient market would not otherwise exist.  Essentially, the statutory license means that the copyright owner must license the work that they own – they cannot restrict its use – if the user pays the royalties set by law or established by the CRB and abides by the conditions for use set out in the law.  See our article here about music statutory licenses and our articles here and here on some of the issues with the TV statutory licenses.  The conditions of use are often carefully restricted so as to only cover very specific uses under the statutory license (see our article here on the conditions placed on the use of music under the statutory license for webcasting – the public performance right for sound recordings used by noninteractive services discussed below).

Continue Reading New Copyright Royalty Board Chief Judge Named – Looking at the Issues Considered by the CRB of Importance to Media Companies

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

  • The US Court of Appeals this week determined that the FCC’s requirement that broadcasters confirm by searching DOJ and FCC

In recent months, lawsuits have been filed against streaming audio service Pandora by comedian Lewis Black, the estate of Robin Williams, and representatives of other comedians seeking public performance royalties for the underlying comedic work – not the recording of the comedy bit for which a royalty is already paid, but instead for the script of that comedic performance.  Reportedly, Spotify has pulled comedy recordings from its service to avoid such threats.  What is the issue here?  The claim in the lawsuits is that the authors of the script of any comedy bit have the right to control the performance of their works in the same way that composers of a song control the rights to use that song.  The argument is that, if these services are playing these comedy bits through a digital audio performance, not only do the comedians who are recorded performing such bits deserve a royalty, but a separate royalty should also be paid to those who wrote it.

In these lawsuits, the analogy is made to the copyrights for the performance of a song.  For music streamed by any digital audio company, there are two royalties that must be paid.  The composers of the music are paid for the performance of their work (both in the digital and analog worlds).  These payments are usually made through a performing rights organization (a “PRO”) which represents thousands (or sometimes millions) of composers and their publishing companies.  ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are the traditional PROs who, for radio and television, all have their rates reviewed for fairness under antitrust laws.  As we have written (see for instance our articles here and here), a new PRO for musical works, GMR, has recently settled litigation with the Radio Music License Committee and is assessing most commercial radio stations a royalty for the performance of music by the composers that it represents.  For digital performances, a royalty is also owned for the performance of the sound recording – the composition as recorded by a singer or band.  Through an act of Congress, all noninteractive digital performances (see our article here on the difference between interactive and noninteractive services) can be played by a digital music service by paying a “collective” that acts like a PRO by collecting royalties from those services that transmit the music to their listeners and distributing those royalties  to the performers and their record labels (as the labels usually own the copyright in the recording).  Since the sound recording digital performance royalty was first collected about two decades ago, SoundExchange has served as the “collective.”  The lawsuits by the comedians seek to collect these dual royalties from digital services that transmit comedy recordings to their listeners.  Why is this not covered by the royalties that services already pay?
Continue Reading Public Performance Royalties for Comedy Recordings? – New PROs Claim that Additional Royalties Are Due

The lazy days of summer continue to provide little respite from the regulatory actions of importance to broadcasters.  The good news is that there are no license renewal or EEO  deadlines during the month of July.  Nonetheless, there will be a number of July deadlines that require attention.

On July 1, comments are due on the FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics annual call for comments on the State of Competition in the Communications Marketplace (see the Public Notice calling for these comments). The comments are used to prepare a report to Congress on communications competition issues and are sometimes referenced by the FCC itself in proceedings dealing with competition issues.  The FCC seeks comments on a list of questions about competition in both the Video and Audio marketplaces, including the impact of digital competitors on traditional providers and the role that regulation plays in the competitive landscape.  Reply comments are due August 1.

July 5 and July 18 are the comment and reply comment deadlines, respectively, for the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the FCC’s proposed regulatory fees for fiscal year 2022.  The fees that the FCC is proposing for television (full power and otherwise) and radio stations are set forth in Appendix C and Appendix G of the document.  The FCC is proposing an increase of approximately 13% for radio broadcasters.  Among other things, the FCC proposes to continue to assess fees for full-power broadcast television stations based on the population covered by a full-service broadcast television station’s contour, and it seeks comment on its mechanism for calculating the regulatory fee based on the this population-based methodology.  These fees will be set by the end of August or very early September, to be paid before the October 1 start of the government’s new fiscal year.
Continue Reading July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters:  Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists and Other Public File Obligations, Lowest Unit Charge Periods, License Renewal, Copyright Filings and More

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

  • Comment dates have been announced in the Federal Register for the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to authorize LPTV