Early this month, the Copyright Office released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking dealing with two separate but related issues. First, it asks for comments on certain changes in the reporting that cable systems and satellite TV operators provide to the Copyright Office on the programming that they carry – information that is used to provide baseline information for the Copyright Royalty Board to use in its determinations on how the royalties paid by cable systems for the carriage of television stations are distributed to the programmers and content owners that provide programming to the stations.   While certainly the reporting of information used to distribute the royalties paid by cable and satellite for their compulsory license to carry the programming broadcast by TV stations is important, perhaps the more interesting portion of the Notice was the questions that it asked about the definition of a cable system – proposing to adopt the definition of cable systems that exclude Internet-based systems that has been reflected in recent court cases.

We have written about the issue of whether online platforms qualify for the compulsory license to carry television stations many times (see for instance our article here when the issue was first raised by Aereo), when services such as Aereo and FilmOn argued that they could carry television stations on their online platforms without specific consent from the stations as they qualified as cable systems.  These arguments have been consistently rejected by the Courts (see, for instance, our articles here and here) , most recently in the Spring when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the one District Court decision that had found that the argument advanced by FilmOn had merit (see our summary of the Ninth Circuit decision here).  The Copyright Office proposes to adopt that definition.
Continue Reading What is a Cable System – The Copyright Office Wants to Know

July is a big month on the Washington regulatory scene for broadcasters. There are, of course, the routine quarterly regulatory obligations. For all stations, commercial and noncommercial, Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, summarizing the most important issues facing a broadcaster’s community, and the programs that were broadcast in the prior quarter to address those issues, must be in a station’s public file (the online public file for all TV stations and for radio stations that have already converted to the online file) by July 10. These are the only required records documenting a station’s service to its community, so do not forget to complete these reports and to timely place them in your public file.

Children’s Television Reports documenting the educational and informational programing broadcast by TV stations to meet their obligation to program at least three hours a week of such programming for each program stream are due to be filed at the FCC by July 10. Also, TV stations must place into their public file documentation showing that they have met the advertising limits imposed on commercials during children’s programming.
Continue Reading July Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Quarterly Issues Programs and Children’s Television Reports, Comment Dates on Main Studio Rule Elimination and Modernization of Media Regulation, Incentive Auction CP Filing Deadline, Effective Date for Captioning Clips of Live and Near-Live Programming, and Window for FM Translators for AM Stations

The Copyright Office last year announced changes to its system for registering designated agents for receiving take-down notices that are sent by copyright owners when they believe that user-generated content posted on a website is infringing on the copyright owner’s content (see our article here). The new system makes these registrations electronic, and requires all services seeking protection under Section 512 of the Copyright Act (the “safe harbor” for user-generated content) to register in the new system by December 31, 2017. Last week, the Copyright Office announced certain minor changes to the information required of the companies registering their designated agents in this new system (see Federal Register notice here).

The new changes make it easier for smaller companies to register in the new system. Initially, the system had required a user to establish an account with the Copyright Office before registering the designated agent. That account registration, while not public, did require the submission of information including the physical address of a contact person, and a secondary contact person for the company. Recognizing that many small website owners who might register for the sale harbor (e.g. a blogger running his or her own blog) might not have a secondary contact person for their website operations, the Copyright Office made the secondary contact optional. The office also eliminated the need to register a title for the contact person and the physical address for that person. Presumably, that address is no longer necessary as most contacts would be done through email or by phone – data fields that are still required. Why register in this system?
Continue Reading Copyright Office Makes Changes to Registration of Designated Agents for Take-Down Notices for User Generated Content – Reminder of December 1 Deadline to Register in New Electronic System

In a decision released this week, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a District Court decision (about which we wrote here) that had found that a video service provided by Aereokiller was a “cable system” as defined by Section 111 of the Copyright Act. That decision had held that, as a cable system, Aereokiller was entitled to retransmit the programming broadcast by a television station under a statutory license, without specific permission from the copyright holders in that programming. The Court of Appeals, while finding that the wording of Section 111 was ambiguous, determined that the consistent position taken by the Copyright Office, finding that cable systems as defined by Section 111 had to be local services retransmitting TV programming, with some fixed facilities to a defined set of communities was determinative of the issue. The Copyright Office’s interpretation was given particular deference as Congress had been well-aware of this interpretation of the statute in other contexts, had in the past amended the Copyright Act to accommodate other new technologies that the Copyright Office found to be outside its definition of a cable system, and had taken no action to amend the statute to include Internet-based video transmission services.

The issue in the case is whether the broad definition of a cable system included in Section 111 would include an over-the-top system such as that offered by Aereokiller. The definition contained in Section 111 is:

A “cable system” is a facility, located in any State, territory, trust territory, or possession of the United States, that in whole or in part receives signals transmitted or programs broadcast by one or more television broadcast stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, and makes secondary transmissions of such signals or programs by wires, cables, microwave, or other communications channels to subscribing members of the public who pay for such service. For purposes of determining the royalty fee under subsection (d)(1), two or more cable systems in contiguous communities under common ownership or control or operating from one headend shall be considered as one system.

The question of whether this definition includes Internet-based video systems has been raised many times since the Supreme Court’s Aereo decision (about which we wrote here), which found that the retransmission of television signals by such systems were “public performances” that needed a license. After the Supreme Court’s determination in Aereo, which had language comparing these over-the-top systems to cable systems that need a statutory license to cover their public performances, these services argued that they were in fact cable systems entitled to rely on the Section 111 statutory license to cover their public performances of the TV station’s programming. These systems argued that they made “secondary retransmissions” of television signals “by wire, cables, microwave or other communications channels” – the Internet argued to be one of those other communications channels. While most courts have rejected this argument (see our articles here and here), a District Court in California was an exception, finding that the statutory language was broad enough to cover these Internet-based systems.
Continue Reading Court of Appeals Rules that Over-the-Top Video Service is Not a Cable System Entitled to Statutory License to Retransmit TV Station Programming

Here we are at the start of a new year, and right away we have numerous regulatory deadlines for broadcasters. By the 10th of the month, all broadcast stations need to have placed in their public inspection files (online for TV and for those radio stations that have already converted to the online public file, and paper for the remaining radio stations), their Quarterly Issues Programs lists, documenting the issues of importance to their communities and the programs broadcast in the last quarter addressing those issues. TV stations have quarterly Children’s Television Reports due to be filed at the FCC by the 10th, addressing the programming that they broadcast to meet the educational and informational needs of children. Commercial TV stations should also add to their public file documentation to demonstrate their compliance with the commercial limits in programming addressed to children.

For TV stations, on the 1st of the year, new obligations became effective for online captioning. “Montages” of clips from TV programs, where all of those clips were captioned when broadcast, also need to be captioned when made available online. By July 1, clips of live and near-live programming must be captioned; however, they may be posted online initially without captions as long as captions are added to clips of live programming within 12 hours and to clips of near-live programming within eight hours after the conclusion of the TV showing of the full-length programming. For more on this requirement, see our article here.
Continue Reading January Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Quarterly Issues Programs Lists and Children’s Television Reports, Ownership and EEO Comments, Copyright Issues and More

There is now a vacancy in the top position at the Copyright Office, the Register of Copyrights, and the Librarian of Congress, who appoints the Register, has asked for comments on the role and qualifications for the new Register. These comments are due by January 31, 2017. While setting copyright law has

Almost every week, we write about some legal issue that arises in digital and social media – many times talking about the traditional media company that did something that they shouldn’t have done in the online world, and ended up with some legal issues as a result. Two weeks ago, I conducted a webinar, hosted by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters and co-sponsored by over 20 other state broadcast associations, where I tried to highlight some of the many legal issues that can be traps for the unwary. Issues we discussed included copyright and trademark issues, a reminder about the FTC sponsorship identification rules for online media, FCC captioning obligations, privacy implications, as well as discussions about the patent issues that have arisen with the use of software and hardware that makes the digital transmission of content possible. Slides from that presentation are available here and, for the full webinar, a YouTube video of the entire presentation is available below which can be reviewed when you have some spare time over this upcoming holiday or at any other time that you want to catch up on your legal obligations.

Some of the specific issues that we talked about are familiar to readers of this blog. We discussed the many issues with taking photographs and other content found on the Internet and repurposing them to your own website without getting permission from the content’s creator (see our articles here and here). Similar issues have arisen when TV stations have taken YouTube videos and played them on their TV stations without getting permission from the creator. Music issues arise all the time, especially in producing online videos and creating digital content like podcasts, as your usual music licenses from ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GMR and SoundExchange don’t cover the reproduction and distribution rights involved when content is copied or downloaded rather than live-streamed (see our article here). The presentation also cautioned companies to be careful about trying to rely on “fair use” as there are no hard and fast rules on when a use of copyrighted materials without permission is in fact fair (see our articles here and here on that subject).

Similarly, there are many other potential pitfalls for digital media companies. We’ve written about some of the FTC rules on requiring sponsorship identification on sponsored digital content – even tweets and Facebook posts (see our articles here and here). Plus, there are always issues about privacy and security of personal information that sites collect – and particularly strict rules for content directed to children. And, as many stations found out when a company asserted patent infringement claims about digital music storage systems used by most radio stations (see our articles here and here), patent issues can also arise in connection with any companies use of digital media.
Continue Reading Legal Issues in Digital and Social Media – Identifying the Landmines for Broadcasters and Other Media Companies – A Video Webinar

The Copyright Office’s new system for registering designated agents for the service of take-down notices when it is believed that user-generated content infringes on intellectual property rights has now gone live. The Copyright Office issued a reminder, here, that all new registrations of agents for the service of these take-down notices must now be submitted in this new electronic system. We wrote more here about the new system and the new requirements for registration, including the requirement that all who are already registered on the old paper forms must re-register in the new system by December 31, 2017. This is important for all media companies who allow third-party users to post content on their sites – whether that content is written articles, photos, videos, music or any other material that could infringe on anyone’s rights under the Copyright Act. Registration is a pre-requisite of getting “safe-harbor” protection for companies who host such third-party content under Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We discussed this issue in my seminar yesterday on legal issues for broadcasters in digital and social media, the slides from which will be posted shortly.

On Section 512, the safe harbor for those who host user-generated content, the Copyright Office last month issued a Request for Additional Comments in its study of the safe harbor. The safe harbor provides that, if an Internet service provider follows certain rules including the registration of an agent for take-down notices, and some unrelated party uses the service and posts or transmits unauthorized copyrighted material, the service has no liability. Exactly what requirements the service needs to observe depends on the type of the service. ISPs, who provide a mere conduit for material transmitted by others have one set of rules, while companies (including most media companies) that allow content to be posted on their sites to be viewed by the public, have another set of rules that place more obligations on these companies, including avoiding any steps to encourage the posting of infringing content, taking down infringing content of which they have actual notice or for which they have been received an uncontested take-down notice, and otherwise not affirmatively profiting from such infringing content. As part of its role of advising Congress on copyright issues, the Copyright Office began a study of the Section 512 exemption a year ago, which we wrote about here. Congress has also held hearings on the matter, and may well try to tackle it in its reform of the Copyright Act that is supposed to be in the works after the new Congress convenes in 2017. Last month’s request for additional comments suggests just how difficult that the reform of this section will be.
Continue Reading Copyright Office New Electronic Registration for Designated Agents for Take Down Notices Goes Live – and The Office Asks for More Comments on Assessing The Section 512 Safe Harbor for User-Generated Content

September 29 will be a big day for broadcasters and other media companies when the FCC holds its next open meeting. In the tentative agenda for that meeting released on Thursday, the FCC identified several issues that deal with the media including two big items on video issues – the decision as to what to do about the Commission’s proposals to open the cable set top box to competing systems, and a new proposal designed to promote sources of independent programming for video distributors. In addition to these two items, the FCC also says that it will resolve the proposals to make the FCC’s foreign ownership rules for broadcasting more like those applicable to non-broadcast companies, easing some of the procedural restrictions that made it difficult for non-US investors to become owners of US broadcast stations.

The set top box debate is perhaps the debate that has garnered the most publicity, with the Commission proposing to allow more companies to offer a means to access cable and satellite TV programming – perhaps enabling the use of new apps to access and inventory that programming. Content owners and program distributors have worried about security issues with opening programming to access on a myriad of devices, and have also been concerned that the loosening of these restrictions could interfere with contractual rights limiting access to certain programs to certain devices and distribution channels. The FCC Chairman yesterday released this fact sheet about the proposal setting out some specifics of the proposal that will seemingly be voted on at the late September meeting, and the Chairman published this op-ed article in the LA Times explaining what he is trying to do. The matter is sure to remain controversial right through the late-September meeting, and perhaps after the decision as well.
Continue Reading September FCC Meeting To Be a Big One for Media Companies – Set Top Boxes, Foreign Ownership of Broadcast Stations and Promotion of Independent Programming

While this summer has perhaps not brought the big headlines in trade press about copyright issues involving broadcasters – particularly in the area of music rights – there still are many issues that are active. I addressed some of those issues in a presentation earlier this month at the Texas Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention. I did my presentation in conjunction with a representative of SoundExchange, where he covered the nuts and bolts of the obligations of broadcasters and webcasters to file royalties for the noninteractive digital performance of sound recordings (e.g. webcasting and Internet radio). While the rates for 2016-2020 are on appeal (see our articles here, here and here), these rates are effective pending appeal and webcasters need to be paying under them. In the Texas presentation, I covered some of the many other copyright issues that are on the horizon, many of which we have written about in the pages of this blog. The slides from my presentation are available here. They provide an outline of many of the pending matters.

The presentation covered the controversy about the Department of Justice decision on the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees, about which I wrote about here. That controversy continues, as the PROs seek judicial or legislative relief from the new DOJ requirement for 100 per cent licensing of split works (see my article for an explanation of what that means). In the interim, the radio industry is negotiating new royalties with both of these organizations, as the current license agreements expire at the end of this year (see our article here).
Continue Reading What’s Up With Music Rights for Broadcasters and Webcasters? – A Presentation on Pending Issues