We are waiting on the Copyright Royalty Board to release its decision setting the royalties that webcasters (including broadcasters who simulcast their over-the-air programming on the Internet) will pay to SoundExhange for the public performance of sound recordings in the period 2021 through the end of 2025.  As we wrote here, that decision would normally have been released in December but, as the trial to establish those rates was delayed by the pandemic and held virtually over the summer, the decision on rates could come as late as this April, though once effective it will be retroactive to all streaming that has occurred since January 1 of this year.  While we await the announcement of the new rates, as I’ve recently received several questions about the rules that apply to streaming under the statutory license, I thought that I would take a quick look at the “performance complement” and other rules that apply to companies that rely on this license.

Note that the rules set out below are slightly different for certain broadcasters, as the NAB in 2016 entered into agreements with Sony and Warner Music Groups to waive certain of the statutory requirements for broadcasters who stream their over-the-air signals on the Internet.  These agreements allow broadcasters to stream their normal over-the-air programming featuring music from these labels without having to observe all of the obligations set out below.  We summarized those waivers here, and hope that they will be further extended to cover the new royalty term.  Also, some big webcasters have negotiated relief from these requirements (see our article here).  But for those not subject to a waiver, let’s look at some of the rules that webcasters relying on the statutory license are to observe.
Continue Reading Looking at the Performance Complement and Other Rules that Apply to Webcasting Companies Relying on the Sound Recording Statutory License

In 2019, the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice began a review of the court-administered antitrust consent decrees that have bound ASCAP and BMI since the 1940s.  We wrote about the issues in their review here.  The formal review of these decrees began as part of the DOJ’s broader review of its antitrust consent decrees covering many different industries.  The DOJ received almost a thousand comments on the questions that it asked about the ASCAP and BMI decrees.  It also held public roundtables as well as private discussions with interested parties during its review.  Last week, Makan Delrahim, the outgoing head of the Antitrust Division, presented remarks at a Vanderbilt Law School virtual event where he said that the review would be ending without any proposals for reform.  While the statement notes some of the reforms that were sought by the music industry, it also notes that music users around the country rely on the systems established under the decrees and judge them to be working well.  Mr. Delrahim’s statement says that because of the complexity of the issues and the interruptions caused by the pandemic, no reforms would be offered at this time, but it urged the DOJ to continue to review these decrees on a regular basis – at least once every five years.

This action is significant for broadcasters and other music users as it leaves in place these consent decrees that are the basis on which so many businesses use music in their day-to-day operations.  Given the volume of music they have under license, most businesses do not have an alternative to using the blanket licenses offered by these organizations.  The only alternative would be to license the music themselves which, due to the complexity of the copyright laws and the lack of transparency in music ownership, would be exceedingly difficult for a business where music is but a secondary component to their operations.  Together, ASCAP and BMI provide a license to broadcasters and other music users (including any business that performs music to the public, such as bars and restaurants, retail stores, digital music services, concert venues, hotels and so many other locations).
Continue Reading DOJ Ends its Review of ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees – For Now…What Does it Mean?

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.  Also, we include a quick look at some important dates in the future.

  • The Enforcement Bureau advised broadcasters (and other

The Copyright Royalty Board today published a Federal Register notice announcing that SoundExchange was auditing a number of broadcasters and other webcasters to assess their compliance with the statutory music licenses provided by Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act for the public performance of sound recordings and ephemeral copies made in the digital transmission process by commercial webcasters. A separate notice to audit the company Music Choice, which also provides a digital music service usually delivered with cable or satellite television services, was also issued to audit their compliance both on webcasting and on their subscription music service which is subject to separate royalty rules set out in a different part of the same section of the Copyright Act and set through a different Copyright Royalty Board proceeding. A third audit notice has gone out to a company called Rockbot, a Business Establishment Service whose royalties are exclusively paid under Section 112 of the statute (see our article here about the CRB-set royalties for these services that provide music played in various food and retail establishments and other businesses).

SoundExchange may conduct an audit of any licensee operating under the statutory licenses for which it collects royalties.  Such audits cover the prior three calendar years in order to verify that the correct royalty payments have been made. The decision to audit a company is not necessarily any indication that SoundExchange considers something amiss with that company’s royalty payments – instead they audit a cross-section of services each year (see our past articles about audits covering the spectrum of digital music companies audited by SoundExchange here, herehere and here).  Audits are conducted by outside accounting firms who, after they review the books and records of the company being audited, issue a report to SoundExchange about their findings.  The company being audited has the right to review the report before it is issued and suggest corrections or identify errors.  The reports are then provided to SoundExchange and, if they show an underpayment, it can collect any unpaid royalties, with interest.  While, by statute, the notice of the royalty must be published in the Federal Register, the results of the audit and any subsequent resolution usually are not made public.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Announces SoundExchange Audits of Royalty Payments for Webcasters (Including Broadcast Simulcasts) and Other Digital Music Services

Last week, Chairman Pai gave a speech to the Media Institute in Washington, talking about his deregulatory accomplishments during his tenure as FCC Chairman.  Central to his speech was the suggestion that the broadcast ownership rules no longer made sense, as they regulate an incredibly small piece of the media landscape, while digital competitors, who are commanding a greater and greater share of the market for audience and advertising dollars, are essentially unregulated.  Not only are they unregulated, but the digital services that compete with broadcasting are owned and financed by companies who are the giants of the US economy.  In his speech, he noted that the company with the most broadcast TV ownership is dwarfed in market capitalization by the companies offering competing video services.

While the Chairman’s speech concentrated on television, mentioning radio only in passing, we note that many of these same issues are even more at play in the audio entertainment marketplace.  When the Chairman two months ago offered remarks on the hundredth anniversary of the first commercial radio station in the US, he recognized that radio has played a fundamental role in the communications world over the last century.  But that role faces more and more challenges, perhaps exaggerated by the pandemic when in many markets listeners are spending less time in cars where so much radio listening takes place.  There are many challenges to over-the-air radio as new sources of audio entertainment that sound and function similarly are more and more accessible to the public and more and more popular with listeners.  Over-the-air radio is already less a distinct industry than a part of the overall audio entertainment marketplace competing with streaming services, podcasts, satellite radio and other audio media.  These changes in listening habits are coupled with a change in the advertising marketplace, as the digital media giants now take over 50% of the local advertising market that was once the province of radio, television and newspapers.
Continue Reading Outgoing FCC Chairman Pai Calls for Modernization of Media Ownership Rules – Audio Competition Issues for the New FCC To Consider  

The Radio Music License Committee and SESAC yesterday announced an extension of the terms of the royalty agreement that is currently in place between the commercial radio industry and this performing rights organization.  As we wrote here, the agreement under which radio broadcasters have been paying for the last three years was arrived at after an arbitration process following the settlement of an antitrust proceeding, and resulted in a dramatic reduction in the amount of the royalties paid to SESAC prior to that litigation.  The antitrust settlement calls for arbitration every three years if RMLC and SESAC cannot voluntarily arrive at new royalties.  The initial three-year period expired at the end of the 2018.  The parties have been negotiating a deal that covers the period starting from January 1, 2019, and the new deal that they arrived at runs for four years through December 31, 2022.  The new blanket agreement is available on the RMLC website here and with instructions from SESAC here.  It principally carries forward the deal terms of the prior agreement.

Note that in many trade press reports there have been statements that the agreement covers the public performance of SESAC music, not just on over-the-air radio but also on the streams of broadcast stations and in other “new media transmissions.”  These new media transmissions, under the terms of the agreement, also include “radio-style podcasts.”  As we noted in connection with RMLC’s recent license agreement with BMI, these agreements cover the public performance rights in a podcast, but that is not the only music license that you need to use music in a podcast.  As podcasts are downloadable and playable on-demand, and they involve the synchronization of music and speech into a unified recorded work, the rights under Copyright law to make reproductions and likely the right to make derivative works of these recordings need to be secured.  These rights need to come directly from the copyright holders in both the musical composition (the words and music of a song) and the sound recording (that song as recorded by a particular band or singer).  The public performance rights from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are insufficient by themselves to give you the rights to use music in a podcast, which is why there are so few podcasts that make extensive use of major label recorded music.
Continue Reading RMLC and SESAC Agree to Extend Current License Agreement for Commercial Radio – Music Licensing Update for Radio

The NAB recently announced that a majority of Congress has signed on to the Local Radio Freedom Act, the nonbinding resolution where Congressional representatives declare their opposition to the adoption of a broadcast performance royalty.  With that announcement, it is worth taking another look at what a broadcast performance royalty is and what might happen next.  We have been covering the arguments about a broadcast performance royalty for over 13 years, but it still bears consideration as I find that there are still broadcasters who do not fully understand the issues.

As we’ve written before, the royalties that broadcasters pay to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and even GMR are paid for the public performance of musical compositions (or “musical works,” the words and music in a song).  These royalties are paid to the composers of music (and the copyright holders in the musical compositions, usually a publishing company). The broadcast performance royalty proposes that broadcasters also pay royalties for the public performance of sound recordings.  A sound recording is the actual recording of a musical composition by a singer or band.  Sound recording royalties are paid to the performers (and the copyright holders in the performances, usually the record labels). Broadcasters do pay these royalties now to SoundExchange when they stream their programming on the Internet. But in the US, other than digital audio services (like webcasters and music services like Pandora, Sirius XM, Spotify or Apple Music), over-the-air broadcasters and other businesses (like bars, restaurants, and retail establishments) who play sound recordings are not subject to a performance royalty for the performance of those sound recordings, though such royalties are paid in many other countries in the world.
Continue Reading NAB Announces that a Majority in Congress Have Signed on to the Local Radio Freedom Act – A Look at the Broadcast Performance Royalty Debate

Almost every broadcaster and other media company uses digital and social media to reach their audiences with content and information that can be presented in ways different than those provided by their traditional platforms.  Whether it is simply maintaining a website or streaming audio or video or maintaining a social media presence to reach and

Our friends at Edison Research recently released a study on music discovery highlighting the ways in which people discover new music.  Among their findings was that broadcast radio, YouTube and streaming services were among the largest sources for that discovery.  That report caused one radio trade publication to suggest that podcasts, which ranked relatively low among the places where new music is discovered, might have opportunities to grow there.  What that suggestion overlooks is one of the biggest reasons that music podcasts have not taken off – rights issues.  There still is no easy way to clear the rights to major label music – so most podcasts are limited to spoken word featuring limited, directly licensed music.

That comment made us think that we should re-run an article from earlier this year, that explained music rights in podcasts.  That article was prompted by the settlement between the Radio Music License Committee and BMI over music royalties for broadcasting.  While a press release about the settlement said that the BMI license includes the use of music in podcasts, we pointed out that radio stations should not assume that means that they can start to play popular music in their podcasts without obtaining the rights to that music directly from rightsholders.  They cannot, as BMI controls only a portion of the rights necessary to use music in podcasts and, without obtaining all of the remaining rights to that music, a podcaster using the music with only a BMI license is looking for a copyright infringement claim.
Continue Reading Using Music in Podcasts – Talk to the Copyright Holders – Why You Can’t Rely on Your ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and SoundExchange Licenses

As business adapts to the pandemic so, too, do legal issues.  A couple have come to my attention in recent weeks that I thought bear passing on.  One deals with copyright concerns, the other with FCC matters about use of unlicensed FM transmitters.  Both arise as businesses adapt the way in which they deal with their customers – including how media companies deal with their audiences.

The copyright issues deal with music licensing matters.  Broadcasters are used to having performance licenses that allow them to broadcast music over the air and stream it on the Internet.  Venues for live music have similar licenses, as do hotels and meeting halls where conventions and other meetings take place – often involving the use of music.  But, as people are no longer frequenting these locations, businesses try to recreate their usual ambiance in an online environment using Zoom, Facebook Live, or one of the many other digital platforms that now exist.  If that ambiance includes music or other copyrighted materials, be sure that you have the rights to use those copyrighted materials in the new environment in which your business is operating.
Continue Reading Random Issues to Consider as Media Businesses Adapt to the New World of the Virus – Music Uses on Zoom and Other Platforms, Unlicensed FM Transmitters