Here are some of the regulatory developments 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.

  • About 200 radio and television stations have been randomly selected to be audited by the FCC for their EEO compliance.

March brings springtime and, with it, a likely reprieve from the cold and extreme weather much of the country has been suffering through.  As noted below, though, March brings no reprieve from the routine regulatory dates and deadlines that fill a broadcaster’s calendar.

TV operators have until March 8 to file comments in the Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry looking to assess the impact of the abolition of the statutory copyright license that allowed satellite television operators to import distant network signals into TV markets where there were households arguably not being served by a local network affiliate (see our article here).
Continue Reading March Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: Copyright, White Spaces, and Zonecasting Comments; LPTV and Translator Analog-to-Digital Extension; Emergency Alerting for Streaming Companies, and More.

The past week was another light one for broadcast regulation at the FCC.  But here are some actions of note for broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • Two Kentucky FM translator stations filed their license renewal applications nearly four months

We are waiting on the Copyright Royalty Board to release its decision setting the royalties that webcasters (including broadcasters who simulcast their over-the-air programming on the Internet) will pay to SoundExhange for the public performance of sound recordings in the period 2021 through the end of 2025.  As we wrote here, that decision would normally have been released in December but, as the trial to establish those rates was delayed by the pandemic and held virtually over the summer, the decision on rates could come as late as this April, though once effective it will be retroactive to all streaming that has occurred since January 1 of this year.  While we await the announcement of the new rates, as I’ve recently received several questions about the rules that apply to streaming under the statutory license, I thought that I would take a quick look at the “performance complement” and other rules that apply to companies that rely on this license.

Note that the rules set out below are slightly different for certain broadcasters, as the NAB in 2016 entered into agreements with Sony and Warner Music Groups to waive certain of the statutory requirements for broadcasters who stream their over-the-air signals on the Internet.  These agreements allow broadcasters to stream their normal over-the-air programming featuring music from these labels without having to observe all of the obligations set out below.  We summarized those waivers here, and hope that they will be further extended to cover the new royalty term.  Also, some big webcasters have negotiated relief from these requirements (see our article here).  But for those not subject to a waiver, let’s look at some of the rules that webcasters relying on the statutory license are to observe.
Continue Reading Looking at the Performance Complement and Other Rules that Apply to Webcasting Companies Relying on the Sound Recording Statutory License

During the holidays, we did not get a chance to mention the draft legislation circulated by Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) proposing changes in the Copyright Act, including the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that created Section 512 of the Act – the safe harbor for user-generated content.  The legislation also proposes other changes in the law, including changing the structure of the Copyright Office by making it an Executive Branch agency with substantive rulemaking authority, as part of the Commerce Department.  The legislation (a full copy is available here and a summary can be found here) was not formally introduced in the waning days of the last Congress.  Instead, Senator Tillis released it for public comment with the intent that the draft would be refined based on those comments before being formally introduced for legislative consideration.  The Senator is seeking comments by March 5, 2021 from all interested parties to determine how the proposals would affect their interests.  Press releases from his office indicate that he is seeking input from a broad array of interests, from the creative community to the tech companies that use copyrighted content to consumers who may find that the platforms they use might police content differently if there are changes in the law.

Reform of the DMCA safe harbor provisions has long been sought by copyright holders who feel that the insulation from liability afforded to tech companies who host content created by others has led to widespread infringement of copyrighted materials.  We wrote at length about these issues in 2016 when the Copyright Office itself reviewed questions about user-generated content (see, for instance, our articles here and here).  In many ways, the issues with Section 512 are similar to those about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – the extent to which big tech companies hosting user-generated content should be liable for that content and should take efforts to police content on their platforms.  Section 230 provides insulation from civil liability other than that which arises under the intellectual property laws (so it protects online hosting companies from liability for matters including defamation or invasion of privacy – see our post here), while Section 512 provides insulation from liability for intellectual property infringement.  However, the Section 512 procedures for obtaining insulation from liability are different from, and in many cases are more stringent than, those under Section 230.
Continue Reading Proposal for Reform of Copyright Act Released for Public Comment – Including Changes for the Safe Harbor for User-Generated Content, the Status of the Copyright Office, and Orphan Works

In 2019, the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice began a review of the court-administered antitrust consent decrees that have bound ASCAP and BMI since the 1940s.  We wrote about the issues in their review here.  The formal review of these decrees began as part of the DOJ’s broader review of its antitrust consent decrees covering many different industries.  The DOJ received almost a thousand comments on the questions that it asked about the ASCAP and BMI decrees.  It also held public roundtables as well as private discussions with interested parties during its review.  Last week, Makan Delrahim, the outgoing head of the Antitrust Division, presented remarks at a Vanderbilt Law School virtual event where he said that the review would be ending without any proposals for reform.  While the statement notes some of the reforms that were sought by the music industry, it also notes that music users around the country rely on the systems established under the decrees and judge them to be working well.  Mr. Delrahim’s statement says that because of the complexity of the issues and the interruptions caused by the pandemic, no reforms would be offered at this time, but it urged the DOJ to continue to review these decrees on a regular basis – at least once every five years.

This action is significant for broadcasters and other music users as it leaves in place these consent decrees that are the basis on which so many businesses use music in their day-to-day operations.  Given the volume of music they have under license, most businesses do not have an alternative to using the blanket licenses offered by these organizations.  The only alternative would be to license the music themselves which, due to the complexity of the copyright laws and the lack of transparency in music ownership, would be exceedingly difficult for a business where music is but a secondary component to their operations.  Together, ASCAP and BMI provide a license to broadcasters and other music users (including any business that performs music to the public, such as bars and restaurants, retail stores, digital music services, concert venues, hotels and so many other locations).
Continue Reading DOJ Ends its Review of ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees – For Now…What Does it Mean?

Here are some of the regulatory developments 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.  Also, we include a quick look at some important dates in the future.

  • The Enforcement Bureau advised broadcasters (and other

The Copyright Royalty Board today published a Federal Register notice announcing that SoundExchange was auditing a number of broadcasters and other webcasters to assess their compliance with the statutory music licenses provided by Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act for the public performance of sound recordings and ephemeral copies made in the digital transmission process by commercial webcasters. A separate notice to audit the company Music Choice, which also provides a digital music service usually delivered with cable or satellite television services, was also issued to audit their compliance both on webcasting and on their subscription music service which is subject to separate royalty rules set out in a different part of the same section of the Copyright Act and set through a different Copyright Royalty Board proceeding. A third audit notice has gone out to a company called Rockbot, a Business Establishment Service whose royalties are exclusively paid under Section 112 of the statute (see our article here about the CRB-set royalties for these services that provide music played in various food and retail establishments and other businesses).

SoundExchange may conduct an audit of any licensee operating under the statutory licenses for which it collects royalties.  Such audits cover the prior three calendar years in order to verify that the correct royalty payments have been made. The decision to audit a company is not necessarily any indication that SoundExchange considers something amiss with that company’s royalty payments – instead they audit a cross-section of services each year (see our past articles about audits covering the spectrum of digital music companies audited by SoundExchange here, herehere and here).  Audits are conducted by outside accounting firms who, after they review the books and records of the company being audited, issue a report to SoundExchange about their findings.  The company being audited has the right to review the report before it is issued and suggest corrections or identify errors.  The reports are then provided to SoundExchange and, if they show an underpayment, it can collect any unpaid royalties, with interest.  While, by statute, the notice of the royalty must be published in the Federal Register, the results of the audit and any subsequent resolution usually are not made public.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Announces SoundExchange Audits of Royalty Payments for Webcasters (Including Broadcast Simulcasts) and Other Digital Music Services

Last week, Chairman Pai gave a speech to the Media Institute in Washington, talking about his deregulatory accomplishments during his tenure as FCC Chairman.  Central to his speech was the suggestion that the broadcast ownership rules no longer made sense, as they regulate an incredibly small piece of the media landscape, while digital competitors, who are commanding a greater and greater share of the market for audience and advertising dollars, are essentially unregulated.  Not only are they unregulated, but the digital services that compete with broadcasting are owned and financed by companies who are the giants of the US economy.  In his speech, he noted that the company with the most broadcast TV ownership is dwarfed in market capitalization by the companies offering competing video services.

While the Chairman’s speech concentrated on television, mentioning radio only in passing, we note that many of these same issues are even more at play in the audio entertainment marketplace.  When the Chairman two months ago offered remarks on the hundredth anniversary of the first commercial radio station in the US, he recognized that radio has played a fundamental role in the communications world over the last century.  But that role faces more and more challenges, perhaps exaggerated by the pandemic when in many markets listeners are spending less time in cars where so much radio listening takes place.  There are many challenges to over-the-air radio as new sources of audio entertainment that sound and function similarly are more and more accessible to the public and more and more popular with listeners.  Over-the-air radio is already less a distinct industry than a part of the overall audio entertainment marketplace competing with streaming services, podcasts, satellite radio and other audio media.  These changes in listening habits are coupled with a change in the advertising marketplace, as the digital media giants now take over 50% of the local advertising market that was once the province of radio, television and newspapers.
Continue Reading Outgoing FCC Chairman Pai Calls for Modernization of Media Ownership Rules – Audio Competition Issues for the New FCC To Consider