We are celebrating our birthday.  Last week marked 15 years since the first short articles were published on this blog, with an official welcome being posted once we decided that we really could find something to regularly write about – that welcome posted 15 years ago Friday.  Here we are, a decade and a half and almost 2,500 articles later, and there still is no shortage of topics to cover.

In the 15 years that the blog has been active, our audience has grown dramatically.  In fact, I’m amazed by all the different groups of readers – broadcasters and employees of digital media companies, attorneys and members of the financial community, journalists, regulators, and even students and teachers.  Because of all the encouragement that I have received, I’ve kept going, hopefully providing you all with some valuable information along the way.  If you are interested, I recently discussed the blog with the LexBlog’s This Week in Legal Blogging (the video can be accessed here), telling many stories about unusual interactions with readers of our articles.
Continue Reading Celebrating 15 Years of the Broadcast Law Blog

The trade press in the last few days has been full of news about a letter of inquiry from two Congressmen to Spotify asking for details about Spotify’s promotional royalty rates where, in exchange for lowered royalties, songs to which these rates apply may be played more frequently, as Spotify factors in lower costs into its music selection algorithms.  The Congressional letter asks whether this promotional approach is already in operation, and if it will lead to a “race to the bottom” forcing lower royalties on artists, resulting in economic losses to these artists.  While the implication is that negotiation over royalty rates is a new phenomenon, in fact such negotiations are common in the digital music marketplace and, based on the way that Congress itself established the royalties for music services, they are inherent in that system.  In effect, this Congressional letter seems to be asking for Spotify to forego a private business transaction by which it lowers its costs of doing business through providing its business partners something that they want – more exposure for certain music.

Indeed, as we have written before, these negotiations over royalty rates are required to operate in the digital music marketplace.  Royalties paid to performers and record labels for the use of music by an interactive music service like Spotify are not set by governmental decision (there is no Copyright Royalty Board setting a default rate as there is for noninteractive music services – see our article here).  Instead, the rates are set by private business negotiations where there is a give-and-take between the parties over various considerations – including the promotional benefits when songs are featured on certain playlists provided by services like Spotify.  Certainly, there are counterweights to any downward pressure on all royalty rates, as listeners to an on-demand service like Spotify want to hear the hits.  So Spotify needs to pay for those hits to attract and retain its listeners.  In some cases, artists have determined that there is insufficient promotional value to the playing of their music on an interactive service and that no royalty would be enough to compensate them for perceived lost sales of their music when it is featured on an interactive service.  As we wrote here, these artists may deny an interactive service the use of all their music, or portions of their catalog.  In other cases, as in the instances that apparently gave rise to the Congressional letter, record companies or artists may feel that it is important that their music get exposure, so they will be willing to accept lower royalties in exchange for wider exposure to their music to consumers that such plays deliver.  In other cases, other promotional benefits may be given to the copyright holders for lower royalties (in fact, initially, the record companies received equity positions in Spotify, presumably to help convince them to make their music available at rates that Spotify thought it could afford).  Royalties in the interactive music marketplace are simply the result of a marketplace negotiation, as Congress intended when they adopted Section 114 of the Copyright Act providing for digital performance rights for sound recordings.
Continue Reading Congress Asks Spotify for Information About Promotional Royalty Rates – Is This Much Ado About the Way the Interactive Music Marketplace is Designed to Work?

As the calendar flips to June, pandemic restrictions across the country continue to loosen, and we inch closer to summer.  Broadcasters could be forgiven for not having regulatory dates and deadlines on the top of their minds.  There are, however, many important dates and deadlines to keep track of during June – we provide details of some of them below.  As always, be sure to stay in touch with your FCC counsel for the dates and deadlines applicable to your operations.

Radio stations in ArizonaIdahoNevadaNew MexicoUtah, and Wyoming and television stations in Michigan and Ohio should be putting the final touches on their license renewal applications, which are due by June 1.  See our article, here, about preparing for license renewal.  These stations must also file with the FCC a Broadcast EEO Program Report (Form 2100, Schedule 396) and, if they are part of a station employment unit (a station or a group of commonly owned stations in the same market that share at least one employee) with 5 or more full-time employees, upload to their public file and post on their station website a link to their Annual EEO Public Inspection File report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for the twelve months from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021.
Continue Reading June Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewal and EEO Filings, Comments and Replies, Auction Upfront Payments, Streaming Rates Announcement, and More

The Copyright Royalty Board decision on the rates to be paid in the next 5 years by webcasters, including broadcasters who simulcast their programming on the internet, to SoundExchange for the digital public performance of sound recordings is supposed to be released by June 14.  These royalties are collected by SoundExchange from noninteractive webcasters (see our articles here, here and here on the difference between interactive and non-interactive webcasters) and are distributed to the artists who perform on recordings and to the copyright holders of those recordings – usually the record labels.  The CRB sets these rates in 5-year increments.  The rates at issue in the current proceeding are for 2021-2025.  As we wrote here and here, these rates would normally have been determined before the end of the last rate period at the end of 2020 but, as the trial to determine the rates was postponed by the pandemic, the CRB has been given to June 14 to announce the new royalties, presumably to be made retroactive to January 1.

The proposals made in this proceeding vary widely.  SoundExchange and its associated record labels are arguing that the rates should substantially increase, from their current level of $.0018 per performance (per song per listener – see our article here) for nonsubscription streams to rates of $.0028 per performance for 2021, with cost of living increases each succeeding year.  For subscription webcasting, SoundExchange proposes that the rates increase from $.0024 to $.0031.  In these cases, each party makes arguments as to what a willing buyer and willing seller would pay in a marketplace transaction for such rights.  The parties introduce expert witnesses to testify as to what that rate would be, usually by looking at other similar marketplace transactions.  To arrive at its proposed rates, SoundExchange introduced experts who looked at the market price for the use of music by interactive services.  These prices are set by direct negotiations.  From those prices, the experts attempted to calculate an appropriate adjustment to remove the value of the interactivity to determine the rates that a noninteractive service would pay.  This proposed increase in royalties was, of course, countered by representatives of the services who will pay the royalties to SoundExchange.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Webcasting Royalties Expected by June 14 – What Will the Streaming Rates for 2021-2025 Be?

Last week, the NY Times ran an interesting article, here, about how many old TV programs now available on streaming services are missing music that was featured on the original broadcast.  This was because when the music rights were initially purchased,  their use was limited to over-the-air broadcasts or was limited to a short period of time, with the producers never envisioning that the programs would be available through on-demand streaming services decades after they originally aired on over-the-air television.  While not mentioned in the article, for many radio broadcasters one of the series most missed on streaming services is the industry favorite WKRP in Cincinnati.  That series took forever to get to digital outlets, and still does not appear to be on any subscription streaming service, reportedly because of music rights issues.  This article and the issues that it highlights should be a warning not just to TV producers, but also to anyone planning to use music in audio or video productions – including podcasts and online videos – that clearing music rights is essential to insure that these productions can be fully exploited  not only when they are first made available, but also in the future if they are repurposed for other platforms.

We have written before (see, for example, our articles here and here) about the need to get permission from the copyright holders in both the musical work (or musical composition – the words and music to a song) and in the sound recording (or master recording – the song as recorded by a particular band or singer).  Just signing up with a performing rights organization (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC or GMR) is not enough because, while podcasts may involve the public performances of the musical works that these organizations license, they do not give rights to make the permanent fixed copies of those songs, synchronized with other audio in the podcast, that can be accessed and downloaded on demand.  These uses require the additional copyrights to reproduce and distribute music, and arguably to make derivative works, that can only be obtained from the copyright holder (see our article here describing why the PRO license itself does not give all rights needed to use music in podcasts).   Similarly, the rights to the sound recording must also be obtained from the copyright holder in the recording – and payments to SoundExchange do not cover the on-demand music uses involved in a podcast.  Thus, when the necessary rights are not obtained from the copyright holders, we have seen podcasts go silent after infringement claims are brought or threatened (see our article here).
Continue Reading Missing Music On Streamed TV Programs Highlights Rights Issues for Podcasters and Video Producers

The broadcast trade press is full today with the news that NAB CEO Gordon Smith will be stepping back from that position at the end of the year, to be replaced by current COO (and former head of Government Relations) Curtis LeGeyt.  As many will remember, Smith took over the organization over a decade ago during a turbulent time for the industry.  At the time, TV stations faced increasing calls for other uses of the broadcast spectrum, and radio stations faced a possible performance royalty on their over-the-air broadcasts of sound recordings.  Since then, through all sorts of issues, there has been a general consensus in the industry that its leadership was in capable hands and meeting the issues as they arose.

But many issues remain for broadcasters – some of them ones that have never gone away completely.  The sound recording performance royalty for over-the-air broadcasting remains an issue, as do other music licensing issues calling for changes to the way that songwriters and composers are compensated, generally calling for higher payments or different compensation systems (see our articles here on the GMR controversy and here on the review of music industry antitrust consent decrees).  TV stations, while having gone through the incentive auction giving up significant parts of the TV broadcast spectrum, still face demands by wireless operators and others hungry for more spectrum to provide the many in-demand services necessary to meet the need for faster mobile services (see our articles here on C-Band redeployment and here on requests for a set aside of TV spectrum for unlicensed wireless users).  But competition from digital services may well be the biggest current issue facing broadcasters.
Continue Reading With a Change at the Top at the NAB as CEO Gordon Smith Plans His Departure – What are the Regulatory Issues That are Facing Broadcasters?

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 Supreme Court this week announced its decision in Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project, the broadcast ownership

The Copyright Office this week granted a request from the Copyright Royalty Board for more time to decide on the royalties to be paid to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings by webcasters, including broadcasters who simulcast their programming on the Internet.  As we wrote in July, the CRB decision on

A few weeks ago, the news was abuzz with the controversy over an Australian law that would make social media companies and even search engines pay for their making available content originating with traditional media outlets.  While the controversy was hot, there were articles in many general interest publications asking whether that model could work outside Australia – and perhaps whether such a bill could even be adopted in the US.  What has received far less notice in the popular press was a US version of that bill that was recently introduced in Congress to address some of the same issues.  The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021 was not introduced in response to the Australian law, but instead it is an idea that pre-dated the overseas action.  Versions of the US bill have been introduced in prior sessions of Congress, though it never before gained much attention.  But this year’s version has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, has already been the subject of a Congressional committee hearing, and has gained support (including from the National Association of Broadcasters and even the tech company Microsoft).

The intent of these bills, and other similar legislation considered across the world, is to open a new revenue stream for traditional media outlets which cover local news – outlets that have been hit hard by the online media revolution over the last 25 years.  As we have noted in other contexts (see for instance our articles here and here), as huge digital media platforms have developed in this century, these platforms have taken away over half the local advertising revenue in virtually all media markets – revenues that had supported local journalism.  The perception is that this has been done without significantly adding to the coverage of local issues and events in these markets.  We certainly have seen the economics of the newspaper industry severely impacted, with many if not most newspapers cutting staff and local coverage, and even how often the papers are published.  Broadcasting, too, has felt the impact.  Many legislators across the globe have come to the conclusion that these digital platforms attract audiences by featuring content created by the traditional media sources that have been so impacted by online operations.  To preserve and support original news sources, various ways in which the content creators can be compensated for the use of their works, such as the legislation in the US and Australia, are being explored.  We thought it worth looking at proposed legislation in the US and comparing it to the more extensive legislation introduced in Australia, and to highlight some of the issues that may arise in connection with such regulatory proposals.
Continue Reading Making the Tech Giants Pay to Use Traditional Media News Content – Looking at the Legislative Issues

After a long winter, spring has finally arrived and has brought with it more daylight and warmer temperatures—two occurrences that do not necessarily pair well with keeping up with broadcast regulatory dates and deadlines.  Here are some of the important dates coming in April.  Be sure to consult with your FCC counsel on all other important dates applicable to your own operations.

On or before April 1, radio stations in Texas (including LPFM stations) and television stations in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee must file their license renewal applications through the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS).  Those stations must also file with the FCC a Broadcast EEO Program Report (Form 2100, Schedule 396).

Both radio and TV stations in the states listed above with April 1 renewal filing deadlines, as well as radio and TV stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, if they are part of a station employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees (an employment unit is a station or a group of commonly controlled stations in the same market that share at least one employee), by April 1 must upload to their public file and post a link on their station website to their Annual EEO Public Inspection Report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for the twelve months from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.
Continue Reading April Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewal, Issues/Programs Lists, EEO, Webcasting Royalties and More