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  

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

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

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

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

  • The FCC Enforcement Bureau this week announced its latest round of random

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.

  • The FCC proposed a $32,000 fine to a subsidiary of Cumulus Media for EEO and public file violations by a

March is one of those months where no regularly scheduled FCC deadlines fall.  But there are still plenty of other deadlines and dates of importance to broadcasters that fall during this month, from comment dates in rulemaking proceedings, to the start of an auction for new TV stations and the completion of the reimbursement cycle for certain stations involved in the TV repack, to deadlines for radio stations to sign up for the GMR license agreement, and even, with daylight savings time upon us, the time for certain AM stations to adjust their operating parameters.

Let’s start with the rulemaking proceedings.  On March 11, comments are due on an FCC Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks to enhance visual EAS messages to assist people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Reply comments on the NPRM are due by March 28.  The same Federal Register notice that set these comment dates also references an associated Notice of Inquiry that asks for suggestions on how to improve the current EAS daisy chain architecture to better deliver alerts.  Comments and reply comments on the NOI are due by April 11 and May 10, respectively.

Interested parties that want to reply to comments submitted on the FCC’s Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the ATSC 3.0 (Next Gen TV) proceeding must have those reply comments in by March 14.  In that proceeding, the FCC proposes to allow Next Gen TV stations to include within their license certain of their multicast streams that are aired on “host” stations during a transitional period.  Under the FCC’s proposals that are designed to clear up which entity is responsible for legal and regulatory compliance, such multicast streams will be part of the originating station’s license, not that of the “host” station.  See the Federal Register notice, here, and read the comments submitted to the docket, here.
Continue Reading March Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: EAS and Next Gen TV Rulemaking Comments, Incentive Auction Reimbursements, TV Auction, GMR Licensing Deadline, 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.

  • Following up on its proposals from last summer to clean up radio technical rules that were inconsistent, outdated, or inaccurate,