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

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

In our summary of last week’s regulatory actions, I was struck by a common thread in comments made by several FCC Commissioners in different contexts – the thread being the FCC’s role in regulating Internet content companies.  As we noted in our summary, both Republican commissioners issued statements last week in response to a request by a public interest group that the FCC block Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.  The Commissioners stated that the FCC had no role to play in reviewing that acquisition.  Twitter does not appear to own regulated communications assets and thus the FCC would not be called upon to review any application for the acquisition of that company.  The Commissioners also noted concerns with the First Amendment implications of trying to block the acquisition because of Musk’s hands-off position on the regulation of content on the platform, but the Commissioners’ principal concern was with FCC jurisdiction (Carr StatementSimington Comments).  In the same week, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, in remarks to a disability rights organization, talked about plans for more FCC forums on the accessibility of Internet content to follow up on the sessions that we wrote about here.

The ability of the FCC to regulate internet content and platforms depends on statutory authority.  In holding the forums on captioning of online video content, the FCC could look to the language of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which included language that asked the FCC to look at the accessibility of video content used on internet platforms.  In other areas, the FCC’s jurisdiction is not as clear, but calls arise regularly for the FCC to act to regulate content that, as we have written in other contexts, looks more and more like broadcast content and competes directly with that content.
Continue Reading Does the FCC Regulate Internet Content and Companies? 

Last week, we discussed the controversy started by Neil Young removing his music from Spotify because of its carriage of Joe Rogan’s podcast.  In that article, we looked at the relationship between music royalties and the decision of Spotify and other music services to emphasize podcasts and other talk programming over music.  Today, we will look at how music rights and royalties impact decisions like those of Neil Young and other musicians who may have wanted to pull their music to support the protest over Rogan’s podcast.

At its most basic level, there is the question of how much the artists themselves stand to lose from the withdrawal of their music from a service like Spotify.  Young himself said that he would lose 60% of his streaming revenue from pulling his music, which one source estimated to be over $700,000.  Given the other streaming services that now exist, his music is still available and generating revenue on his catalog, though apparently less than the amount generated by Spotify.  The 60% number in and of itself is interesting as, while artists and other music representatives complain about the Spotify per song payouts (likely because they offer a free, ad-supported tier with lower payouts than those from subscription services), the wider variety of services offered by Spotify seem to bring in big numbers of listeners – likely including many who would not subscribe to a pay-music service. Thus, because of the sheer numbers of listeners, and assuming that Young is representative of other artists, Spotify is responsible for the majority of the streaming revenue that has allowed the music industry to enjoy in recent years some of their most profitable years ever.  Even with these banner payouts, as we noted in our article on the Spotify side of the equation, the music industry is still not satisfied, recently calling the payouts “appallingly low.”  More on that issue in an upcoming post on the discussions of a US broadcast radio sound recording performance royalty.
Continue Reading Spotify, Joe Rogan and Neil Young – Looking at the Rights and Royalty Issues Behind the Story (Part 2 – The Rights of the Artists to Pull Their Music)

The last two weeks have been filled with stories about Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and other artists pulling their music from Spotify in protest of its carriage of the Joe Rogan podcast.  While the political statements made by these actions generate the news, there are rights and royalty issues behind the story that are worth exploring.  While Washington Post articles here and here touch on some of these issues, looking at them in more depth helps to explain the importance that Spotify places on podcasts and why it would be reluctant to pull a podcast that has so many listeners (reportedly over 10 million per episode), even if the podcast has content that may be objectionable.  The issues raised by this controversy are also tied into two other stories that made the news for broadcasters this last week – Congressional hearings on the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act and on a potential sound recording performance royalty on over-the-air radio – topics we will cover in subsequent articles.

Let’s first look at the question of why Spotify, which started as a music service, has pushed so hard into podcasting.  We will follow up with a discussion of the issues on the artist side of the equation in a second article.  Spotify reportedly paid more than a hundred million dollars for the rights to the Rogan podcast.  It has also invested heavily in other podcast companies – including buying podcast technology companies including Anchor and Megaphone, and podcast content aggregators including Gimlet and the Ringer.  Deals with celebrities for their podcasts include those with former President Obama for his podcast with Bruce Springsteen, as well as an announced content creation deal with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  Why would a music service spend so heavily to get into spoken word programming?
Continue Reading Spotify, Joe Rogan and Neil Young – Looking at the Rights and Royalty Issues Behind the Story (Part 1 – Why Spotify Has Been Promoting More Podcasts)

As 2021 wound down, there were significant developments on SoundExchange royalties for webcasters – including broadcasters who simulcast their on-air programming through IP channels (such as on their websites and on mobile apps).  While we covered many of these matters in our weekly Sunday updates on regulatory matters of importance to broadcasters, we thought that it would be worth summarizing all of the action in one place.  Most, but not all, of these developments follow from last year’s  Copyright Royalty Board decision  raising webcasting rates for 2021-2025 (see our article here summarizing that decision).

The CRB’s decision was published in the Federal Register in October 2021.  As of that date, all webcasters, if they had not already been doing so, should be paying the higher royalties ($.0021 per song per listener in 2021 for nonsubscription streams).    SoundExchange has appealed the CRB’s decision (presumably to argue the rates should have been set even higher), as have the NAB and the National Religious Broadcasters Noncommercial Music License Committee.  These appeals are pending and likely will be briefed and argued sometime in 2022.  If you have not trued up your payments (the increase in royalties was retroactive to January 1, 2021), consult your legal advisor as to the effect that these appeals may have on your responsibility for that true-up.
Continue Reading A Look at Developments in SoundExchange Webcasting Royalties (Including for Broadcast Simulcasts) From the End of 2021

As the holiday season comes to an end and 2022 comes into focus, broadcasters have several dates and deadlines to keep up with in January and early February.  We have noted below some of the important dates you should be tracking.  However, as always, stay in touch with your station’s lawyers and other regulatory advisors for the dates applicable to your operations.  We wish you a happy, healthy, and successful New Year – and remembering to track important regulatory dates will help you  achieve those ends.

Let’s start with some of the annual dates that always fall in January.  By January 10, full-power radio, TV, and Class A licensees should have their quarterly issues/programs lists uploaded to their online public file.  The lists are meant to identify the issues of importance to the station’s community and the programs that the station broadcast in October, November, and December that addressed those issues.  Prepare the lists carefully and accurately, as they are the only official records of how your station is serving the public and addressing the needs and interests of its community.  See our post here for more on this obligation.
Continue Reading January Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Issues/Programs Lists; Digital LPTV Deadline; Audio Description Expansion; Children’s Programming, Webcasting Royalties; NCE FM Settlement Window; 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.

  • FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination for another five-year term at the agency was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. The

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.

  • President Joe Biden made official his permanent FCC Chair – selecting Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to fill that position. He