Here are some of the FCC regulatory and legal actions of the last week—and congressional action in the coming 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.

  • The Media Bureau reminded broadcasters that July 13, 2021—the hard deadline

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

A decision was expected in December on the royalties to be paid by broadcasters and other digital media companies who stream their non-interactive audio programming on the Internet.  As we wrote at the beginning of the pandemic, the Copyright Royalty Board, which hears the arguments about the royalties to be paid to SoundExchange in a trial-type administrative hearing, had to postpone the hearing that was initially slated to begin in March.  That hearing will now begin later this month.  Because of the delays in the hearing caused by the pandemic, Congress authorized the Copyright Office to extend various statutory deadlines.  This week, the Copyright Office announced that the December deadline for a decision on webcasting royalties has been pushed until April 15, 2021.

This does not mean that the royalties themselves will not go into effect on January 1.  The current CRB proceeding is to determine the rates that will be in effect for 2021 through 2025.  The proceeding began early in 2019 (see our posts here and here).  The January 1 effective date for the new royalties remains in place, so any decision released later in 2021 will be retroactive.  In January, webcasters and other internet radio operators will pay the royalties currently in place, and there will be some mechanism for a true up of the amounts due once the decision becomes effective.  That is not unusual in the music royalty world.  Just a few months ago, the Radio Music License Committee reached an agreement with BMI on royalties that was retroactive several years.  The Copyright Royalty Board decisions themselves, even if released to the parties in December, are often not final until the next year as the public version of any CRB decision usually takes time to release, and the parties have time after a decision is released to seek edits to the decision.  The Copyright Office itself also reviews the CRB decision for legal errors.  Even after that, the decision can be appealed to the Courts, so the ultimate resolution may be unknown for years – yet parties conduct their business while waiting to see if any adjustments to fees already paid may be due at some later time.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Extends Until April Date by Which Decision on SoundExchange Royalties for 2021-2025 Must be Released

We recently wrote about a case where a Judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the website Mashable had a license to use a photo accessible from its site that was actually an embedded photo coming from the servers of Instagram.  In that decision, the Court found that, under Instagram’s Terms of Use, the photographer, by posting photos on Instagram, gave it the right to sublicense the photo to others, which included Mashable who embedded it using an API from Instagram.  This week, the Court issued an Order reconsidering its decision – based on it being pointed out that, for the claim of a sublicense to be sustained, it had to be clear that a license was in fact being issued.  The Court reviewed Instagram’s Platform Policy which made general statement about it helping “publishers discover content, get digital rights to media, and share media using web embeds.”  The Court concluded that, without further evidence, it was unclear that this language alone granted a sublicense to Mashable, and therefore reconsidered its decision to dismiss the photographer’s infringement claim.

This case will go on to look at whether Instagram in fact intended to give Mashable a sublicense to use the photo through the use of the API.  But it does suggest that sites that use embedded media from a social media platform on the assumption that the social media site, by providing other sites the ability to embed their content are in fact sublicensing that content, should proceed with caution.  Those companies looking to post embedded content on their sites should carefully review the terms of use of the social media site to see if a sublicense is in fact being conveyed.  In our last article on the case, we noted that this decision was contrary to another decision in another case (see our article here on that other case) that found a site owner could be liable for embedded content that was accessible from its site.  We noted that there were factual differences in the two cases.  This reconsideration requires even more caution in the use of embedded content from social media sites, particularly in light of the conflicting precedent.
Continue Reading Court Reconsiders Decision About Website Getting License to Embedded Photo from Instagram Terms of Use

Here are some of the legal and regulatory actions 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.

  • The FCC released a Second Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration regarding Next Gen TV (ATSC 3.0). The Report and Order provides guidance on how the Commission will evaluate petitions for waiver of the local simulcasting rules for broadcasters deploying ATSC 3.0 who cannot find a partner station to broadcast its signal in the current transmission standard, declines to allow broadcasters to use vacant in-band channels for voluntary ATSC 3.0 deployment, and clarifies that the “significantly viewed” status of an ATSC 3.0 station will not change when that station moves its ATSC 1.0 simulcast channel to a host facility.  The Order on Reconsideration denied petitions challenging aspects of the Commission’s 2017 Next Gen TV order, including issues dealing with the local simulcast requirement, the application of retransmission consent rules, patent licensing issues, and sunset of the obligation to use the current transmission standard for ATSC 3.0 (that sunset allowing the new transmission mode to evolve over time without the need for FCC action).  (Second Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration)
  • The Commission granted a waiver to a Jacksonville, Florida TV station, allowing it to complete its post-incentive auction move to a new channel by September 8, beyond the current July 3 end of Phase 10 of the repacking of the television band when all TV stations were to have moved to their post-transition facilities. Because of issues related to COVID-19 and other technical matters, the Commission granted this extension and authorized its Media Bureau to grant similar relief to other stations suffering from similar delays (Order)
  • Two members of Congress wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging the Commission to “halt any increases to annual regulatory fees due in 2020 for broadcast licensees.” Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) and Chris Stewart (R-UT) wrote in their letter that this action requires no congressional action and would help alleviate some of the economic hardship suffered by stations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Members noted that broadcasters are a critical component of the pandemic response by, among other things, informing and educating Americans about public health guidance.  (Letter).  The NAB, as well as a group of state broadcast associations, also filed comments at the FCC opposing the FCC’s proposal to increase broadcast regulatory fees, arguing that broadcasters’ fees should not increase in relation to the fees paid by other industries regulated by the FCC, particularly as broadcasters have been so hard hit by the economic fallout of the pandemic. (NAB Comments and State Association Comments)
  • Last Monday, the reply comment period closed in the FCC’s Significant Viewing proceeding. Designation as a significantly viewed station has implications for determining whether a cable or satellite TV system will carry a TV station in an area that is not part of its home market.  For an in-depth look at what the FCC seeks to resolve through this proceeding, see this post at the Broadcast Law Blog.  (Reply Comments)
  • On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing considering the re-nomination of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to a new five-year term. The Commissioner, in response to a question, noted that he believes the FCC’s and DOJ’s current media competition rules are “problematic,” and that he hopes to work with DOJ to shift its narrow view of the competitive marketplace where it does not recognize that broadcasters  don’t just compete with other broadcasters, but instead directly compete with a wide range of other media companies, including digital media outlets.  (Opening Statement and Archived Video)(see Broadcast Law Blog articles here and here on the competition between broadcasters and other media and how the assessment of the definition of the marketplace is important to the evaluation of broadcast ownership limits)
  • The Enforcement Bureau acted last week against two pirate radio operations, one in Pennsylvania and one in Arkansas. These actions are reminders that broadcast operators must hold a valid license to operate and that the FCC will pursue illegal operations.
    • In the first case, the Enforcement Bureau shut down a station that was broadcasting on 90.7 MHz and 91.5 MHz from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. The operator, as part of a consent decree, admitted to the unauthorized operation of the station, agreed to pay a $1,500 civil penalty, and agreed to not operate an unauthorized station in the future.  The PIRATE Act, signed into law in early 2020, gives the FCC authority to fine pirate radio operators up to $100,000 per violation (with a $2 million cap), but, in this case, the operator claimed an economic hardship, which persuaded the FCC to lower the fine to $1,500.  (Order and Consent Decree)
    • In the second case, the Enforcement Bureau issued a $10,000 fine to an operator for the unauthorized operation of a radio station on 103.1 MHz in Alma, Arkansas. (Forfeiture Order)
  • The US Court of Appeals upheld a lower court order throwing out a rule adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services that would have required all TV advertising for prescription drugs to state the wholesale price of the drug. Based on these court decisions, this additional information will not need to be added to the disclaimers that these ads already contain. (Court Decision)(Broadcast Law Blog article on the decision)


Continue Reading This Week at the FCC for Broadcasters: June 13, 2020 to June 19, 2020

The question about what to do with the protections offered by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act took another turn this week, when Joe Biden suggested that online platforms needed to take responsibility for the content posted on them and correct misinformation in those ads.  That position is seemingly the opposite of the President’s Executive Order about which we wrote here and here, which seemingly suggests that no censorship should be applied against political speech on these platforms – or certainly no censorship against certain kinds of speech that is not applied against speech from all other parties on that platform.  Facebook almost immediately posted this response, defending its position not to censor candidate’s speech and analogizing it to the position that television and radio broadcasters are forced by Congress to take – where by law they are not allowed to refuse to run a political ad from a candidate because of its content and they are shielded from liability because of their inability to censor these candidate ads.  Facebook took the position that, if Congress wants to regulate political speech, it should pass laws to do so, but that Facebook would not itself be a censor.  That position reminded us of an article that we wrote back in January when there were calls to make Facebook stop running political ads comparing the regulatory schemes that apply to political ads on different platforms.  Given its new relevance in light of the sudden prominence of the debate over Section 230, we thought that we would rerun our earlier article.  Here it is – and we note how we seemingly anticipated the current debate in our last paragraph:

[In January], the New York Times ran an article seemingly critical of Facebook for not rejecting ads  from political candidates that contained false statements of fact.  We have already written that this policy of Facebook matches the policy that Congress has imposed on broadcast stations and local cable franchisees who sell time to political candidates – they cannot refuse an ad from a candidate’s authorized campaign committee based on its content – even if it is false or even defamatory (see our posts here and here for more on the FCC’s “no censorship” rule that applies to broadcasting and local cable systems).  As this Times article again raises this issue, we thought that we should again provide a brief recap of the rules that apply to broadcast and local cable political ad sales, and contrast these rules to those that currently apply to online advertising.
Continue Reading Facebook Defends Not Censoring Political Ads – Looking at the Differences In Regulation of Political Speech on Different Communications Platforms

Here are some of the FCC regulatory and legal actions of the last week of significance to broadcasters — with a quick look at the week ahead— with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • As protests and civil unrest over George Floyd’s killing roiled cities across the country, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai commended local broadcasters for their coverage of the events and their willingness to put themselves at personal risk to share these stories with America (News Release). Commissioner Starks called for more diversity in media ownership (News Release). We explained the minority tax certificate on our blog here.  The tax certificate has historically been one of the most effective means of promoting diversity in broadcast ownership.
  • The FCC issued a Public Notice setting out proposed lump sum payments for reimbursement of the costs for the relocation of authorized C-Band satellite earth stations following the repurposing of some of that band for 5-G wireless uses. The notice is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, setting a June 15 comment deadline on the proposed payments.
  • The Media Bureau reminded LPTV and TV translator stations operating on channels 38, 44, 45 and 46 that they must cease operations no later than 11:59 pm local time on July 13, 2020. The July 13, 2020 date for cessation of operations is a hard deadline, tied to the end of the post-Incentive Auction transition period.  (Public Notice)
  • The Media Bureau opened a settlement window running through July 31 for applicants for new or modified LPTV stations or TV translators, originally filed in 2009, that had filed for new channels or new technical facilities because use of their old channels was preempted by the incentive auction repack.  Where more than one applicant applied for the same new channel in the same area, those applicants can file to make engineering changes to their applications (including, if no other solutions are possible, changing channels yet again) or to reach other settlements (including channel sharing) to resolve their conflicts by the July 31 deadline.  (Public Notice)(see our summary of both LPTV items on the Broadcast Law Blog).
  • The FCC released a list of 515 open proceedings from across its bureaus that it plans to close due to dormancy. A proceeding makes the proposed closure list when it requires no more action, no more action is planned, or no filings in the docket have been made for several years.  Interested parties can review the list and submit comments urging the Commission to either keep open or close permanently items that appear on the list.  (Public Notice)
  • The Media Bureau issued a decision reviewing Section 312(g) of the Communications Act which automatically cancels a station’s license if it has been silent for 12 months, absent special circumstances. The decision is particularly useful in explaining the special circumstances that can justify the preservation of a license, and the way that the FCC assesses the period that a station was silent.  (Letter)
  • Two Notices of Apparent Liability that came out of the Commission this week serve as good reminders during this license renewal cycle that you do, in fact, have to file an application to renew your license.
    • In one case, a Virginia AM station was hit with a $7,000 fine for failing to file for license renewal and then operating the station after its FCC authorization had expired. In the end, the Commission levied the fine, but also found that the station’s license should be renewed for a “short-term” two-year license term instead of the typical eight-year term.  (Notice of Apparent Liability)
    • In a second case, a Florida low power FM failed file an application for license renewal on January 27, 2020 that was due on or before October 1, 2019, without providing an explanation for the late filing. The Commission levied a $1,500 fine against the station and will consider the license renewal application at a later time.  (Notice of Apparently Liability)


Continue Reading This Week at the FCC for Broadcasters: May 30, 2020 to June 5, 2020

We summarized the provisions of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act on Monday, looking at the application of the law that the President has sought to change through the Executive Order released last week.  Today, it’s time to look at what the Executive Order purports to do and what practical effects it might have on media companies, including broadcasters.  As we noted in our first article, the reach of Section 230 is broad enough that any company with an online presence where content is created and posted by someone other than the site owner is protected by Section 230 – so that would include the online properties of almost every media company has.

The Executive Order has four distinct action items directed to different parts of the government.  The first, which has perhaps received the most publicity in the broadcast world, is the President’s direction that the Department of Commerce, acting through its National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA – the Executive Branch office principally responsible for telecommunications policy), file a petition for rulemaking at the FCC.  This petition would ask that the FCC review Section 230 to determine if the protections afforded by the law are really as broad as they have been interpreted by the courts.  The Executive Order suggests that the FCC should review whether the ability granted by the law for an online platform to curate content posted by others – the “Good Samaritan” provisions that we wrote about on Monday – could trigger a loss of protections from civil liability for third-party content if sites exercise the curation rights in a manner that is not deemed to be in “good faith”.  The Executive Order directs this inquiry even though the protections for hosting online content are in a separate subsection of the law from the language granting the ability to curate content, and the protections from liability for third-party content contain no good faith language.  The Order suggests that the FCC should find that there would not be “good faith” if the reasons given for the curation actions were “pretextual,” if there was no notice and right to be heard by the party whose content is curated, and if the curation is contrary to the service’s terms of use.  The Order suggests that the FCC should adopt rules to clarify these issues.
Continue Reading Looking at the President’s Executive Order on Online Media – Part 2, What Real Risk Does It Pose for Media Companies?

When the President issues an Executive Order asking for examination of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which permitted the growth of so many Internet companies, broadcasters and other media companies ask what effect the action may have on their operations.  On an initial reading, the impact of the order is very uncertain, as much of it simply calls on other government agencies to review the actions of online platforms.  But, given its focus on “online platforms” subject to the immunity from liability afforded by Section 230, and given the broad reach of Section 230 protections as interpreted by the Courts to cover any website or web platform that hosts content produced by others, the ultimate implications of any change in policy affecting these protections could be profound.  A change in policy could affect not only the huge online platforms that it appears to target, but even media companies that allow public comments on their stories, contests that call for the posting of content developed by third parties to be judged for purposes of awarding prizes, or the sites of content aggregators who post content developed by others (e.g. podcast hosting platforms).

Today, we will look at what Section 230 is, and the practical implications of the loss of its protections would have for online services.  The implications include the potential for even greater censorship by these platforms of what is being posted online – seemingly the opposite of the intent of the Executive Order triggered by the perceived limitations imposed on tweets of the President and on the social media posts of other conservative commentators.   In a later post, we’ll look at some of the other provisions of the Executive Order, and the actions that it is asks other government agencies (including the FCC and the FTC) to take. 
Continue Reading The President’s Executive Order on Online Media – What Does Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act Provide?

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions of the last week—and some obligations for the week ahead—of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The comment cycle was set in the FCC’s annual regulatory fee proceeding. On or before June 12, the Commission wants to hear from interested parties about the fees that it proposes to impose on the companies that it regulates – including broadcasters.  The FCC proposes to complete the implementation of its change to computing fees for television stations based on population served rather than on the market in which they operate, a move it began last year (see our Broadcast Law Blog article here on the FCC decision last year to initiate the change in the way TV fees are allocated).  The FCC also asks for ideas about how the Commission can extend fee relief to stations suffering COVID-19-related financial hardship.  Reply comments are due on or before June 29.  (Notice of Proposed Rulemaking)
  • FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Chris Krebs, director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, wrote to the nation’s governors asking them to, among other things, declare radio and TV broadcasters as essential to COVID-19 response efforts and to afford broadcasters all appropriate resources and access. (News Release)
  • In a good reminder to broadcasters that transactions involving the sale or transfer of control of a broadcast station must be authorized in advance by the FCC, the Media Bureau entered into a consent decree with two companies that sold an FM station and FM translator without getting approval from the Commission. The parties mistakenly believed filing license renewal applications that reflected the assignment was sufficient approval.  The consent decree includes an $8,000 penalty.  (Consent Decree).  See this article on past cases where the FCC has warned that even transactions among related companies that change the legal form of ownership of a broadcast station without changing the ultimate control need prior FCC approval.
  • The Commission granted approval to Cumulus Media, Inc. to exceed the Commission’s twenty-five percent foreign ownership threshold. The Commission will allow Cumulus to have up to 100 percent aggregate foreign investment in the company, although additional approvals will be needed if any previously unnamed foreign entity acquires 5% or more of the company or if any foreign entity desires to acquire control.  (Declaratory Ruling).  This decision shows the process that the FCC must go through to approve foreign ownership above the 25% threshold and the analysis needed to issue such approvals.  See our articles here and here about the evolving FCC policy in this area.
  • President Trump signed an executive order that seeks to, among other things, address online censorship and rollback certain protections afforded to online platforms, which include social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, but which also protect any site that hosts content created by users – which could include the Internet platforms of many broadcasters. Under federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, these online platforms generally enjoy legal immunity for what users post on their platforms.  The President directed the Department of Commerce to ask the FCC to open a rulemaking to review this immunity and asked the FTC to review whether platforms were adhering to their terms of use when commenting on or limiting third-party content.  Other government entities, including state attorneys general and the Department of Justice, were also asked to review online platforms.  For his part, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said “This debate is an important one. The Federal Communications Commission will carefully review any petition for rulemaking filed by the Department of Commerce.”  (Executive Order).  Watch for an article on the Broadcast Law Blog this coming week on implications of this order for broadcasters and other media companies.
  • Anyone looking to hand deliver documents to the FCC needs to learn a new address, and it is not, as you might expect, the address of the FCC’s future headquarters. Deliveries by hand must now be brought to 9050 Junction Drive, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701.  The address change is to enhance security screening and is part of winding down operations at the current 12th Street headquarters.  (Order)


Continue Reading This Week at the FCC for Broadcasters: May 23, 2020 to May 29, 2020