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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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In the last few weeks, we’ve seen almost daily press reports of new lawsuits against media companies being sued for the use of photos on their websites without permission of the photographers. We’ve written many times about copyright issues that can arise if media companies put content on their website without getting permission of the copyright holder. Most recently, we wrote about the legal issues that can arise by taking photos or videos from Internet sites and reposting them to your own site, or using them in on-air productions. We’ve also written articles about how your ASCAP, BMI and SESAC license don’t give you rights to use music in video productions or to post online music that can be accessed in any on-demand fashion – so that such rights have to be cleared directly with copyright holders for such uses – including the use of music in podcasts. Even though these concerns exist, some copyright holders have been reluctant to sue, as litigation over these matters sometimes costs more than the likely recovery (though broadcasters, too, are concerned about litigation as the costs of defending against such a lawsuit can be very high). One idea has been kicking around for a long time – some sort of small claims court for resolving smaller copyright claims at less cost to the parties. Last month, a bill was introduced in Congress to create such a court – a new Copyright Claims Board.

The bill was sponsored by a single Congressman, and has thus far received the support of only a single co-sponsor. Given the time left in the current Congressional session, it would be unlikely to go any further this year. But with a promised examination of the Copyright Act generally on tap for the next Congress, some part, or all, of this proposal might again see the light of day next year. For a bill sponsored by a single Congressman, introduced late in the Congressional session with little time for approval, the bill is actually quite detailed, setting out a complete structure for the new court, as well as specific procedures that would be followed by any copyright owner seeking to adjudicate their claims through this new process.
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Everyone who has a computer, smartphone, or other Internet-connected device has probably spent at least some time perusing photos or videos of cute pets or babies, or of the latest amazing (or sometimes amazingly stupid) things that people do. Broadcasters, in particular, with an audience to reach both through their over-the-air facilities and on their websites and mobile apps, may well want to share the content that they have found online. But, a recent spate of lawsuits filed against radio broadcasters for using photos on their websites without permission makes clear that this can lead to issues if done without permission. There have even been claims made against TV stations for taking video found online and repurposing it over-the-air or online as part of their locally-produced programming. Just because someone has posted photos or videos on a social media site does not give anyone else to take those photos and use them in other media. When an individual posts something on a social media site, what they have done is to give that site the right to use the material that they have posted in accordance with the rules of the site on which they have been posted – but the mere fact that a photo or video has been posted on one of these sites does not give others the rights to take those photos and videos and use them elsewhere.

When I make a statement like this in one of the many seminars that I have done on digital media issues, people are always quick to jump up and say – “but isn’t the Internet all about sharing?”  While in some ways it is, it really is more a medium for the dissemination of content in one way or another.  And just because a creator of content wants to share that content in one fashion does not mean that the content can be reused by others in a wholly different context.
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The Canadian performance rights society SOCAN (essentially the Canadian version of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) has announced the purchase of Audiam, a private company that specialized in representing composers trying to maximize their music rights collections – both for performance rights and mechanical royalties – worldwide. Audiam also claims to provide a comprehensive database of rightsholders to both musical compositions and sound recordings – a valuable commodity in and of itself, as there is no uniform public registry for such rights. This follows SOCAN’s purchase of MediaNet, a company that specializes in obtaining clearances for music (including sound or master recordings – the musical compositions that SOCAN has traditionally licensed as recorded by a particular singer or band) so as to provide those rights to digital music stores or services, eliminating the need for these services to separately negotiate terms with sound recording performance rights holders. This consolidation under one roof of public performance and mechanical rights to musical compositions, along with rights to sound recordings, promises at some point in the future, a one-stop shop where music users (including digital music services like Spotify or Deezer, and perhaps even smaller music users like podcasters) can obtain all the rights that they need to use music in their businesses.

This same goal seems to be the motivation behind SESAC’s acquisition in recent years of the Harry Fox Agency (which also handles mechanical licensing – the rights to make reproductions of musical compositions needed for downloads and even on-demand streams) and Rumblefish, a digital service providing clearances for the use of sound recordings in videos, commercials and for other purposes. This same drive to consolidate music licensing services was also, to some degree, behind the push for revisions to the ASCAP and BMI antitrust consent decrees, as ASCAP and BMI wanted the clear right to license mechanical rights as well as the public performance rights they now provide. Even the publisher withdrawals from ASCAP and BMI by major publishing companies that are affiliated with major record labels may have had similar ideas behind them as some have speculated that these major music companies could bundle the licensing of sound recordings and musical compositions (see our article here where we made the same observation).
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E-Cigs and vape shops have become a new advertising category for many broadcast stations over the last few years. Unlike ads for cigarettes, little cigars, and smokeless (chewing) tobacco, which are effectively banned on broadcast stations, there are currently few Federal rules on e-cigs. Ads currently cannot make health claims about the product (so the ads cannot say that they are healthier than smoking cigarettes, nor can an ad even make the claim that e-cigs help users stop smoking). While some states have placed some additional restrictions on sales that carry over into advertising (e.g. age restrictions on sales), the Federal government, until this week, had passed on imposing more sweeping regulation on the industry.

In a “Final Rule” issued by the Food and Drug Administration yesterday (to be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday), a number of new requirements were adopted for tobacco products generally, and e-cigs were included in the FDA’s definition of tobacco products. So, too were cigars, pipe tobacco and tobacco used in water pipes or hookahs – tobacco products not covered by the over-the-air advertising ban that applies to cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. The new rules have a number of implications for the e-cig industry generally, including bans on sales to those under 18 and requirements that the FDA conduct “pre-market review” and approval of any new tobacco product introduced to the market in February 2007 or later. Of particular note for broadcasters are new requirements for health warnings in advertisements for all tobacco products, including e-cigs.
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