Programming Regulations

The FCC this week announced that broadcasters must now comply with new rules designed to identify when programming is run on U.S. stations that was provided by a foreign governmental entity pursuant to a lease of airtime.  While this seems like a narrow purpose, the new rules will impose a burden on broadcasters.  Because of First Amendment considerations, the FCC cannot totally prohibit the broadcast of such programming, but it adopted this rule to ensure that audiences are informed about programming backed by a foreign government.  The NAB and other groups have appealed the FCC’s rules, and that appeal is pending.  The court also denied a request to delay the requirements of the new rules from going into effect.  Thus, broadcasters must begin to comply with the rules now.

The FCC’s rules require broadcasters to make a very specific sponsorship identification disclosure in programming aired under an agreement for the lease of airtime if that programming has been supplied by a “foreign governmental entity” (defined in the rule), or if anyone involved in the production or distribution of that programming aired pursuant to the lease agreement (or a sub-lease) qualifies as a foreign governmental entity.  A foreign government entity is defined by the FCC rule (Section 73.1212(j)) to “include governments of foreign countries, foreign political parties, agents of foreign principals, and United States-based foreign media outlets.”  The rule goes on to give other specific definitions of these terms.
Continue Reading New Rules on the Identification of Foreign Government-Provided Programs Affects All Broadcasters – Now in Effect  

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, and a look ahead to events of importance next week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Media Bureau this week released the first of what

Yesterday, I wrote about the history of the NCAA’s assembling of the rights to an array of trademarks associated with this month’s basketball tournament.  Today, I will provide some examples of the activities that can bring unwanted NCAA attention to your advertisements or broadcasting of advertising.  But, first, I will discuss yet one more issue that should be considered.

Endorsements by Individual Student-Athletes

After many years of litigation, in July 2021, the NCAA suspended its policy prohibiting college athletes from profiting from their names, images and likenesses (“NIL”) (or their right of publicity) without losing their eligibility.  However, there is no national set of rules as to what is permissible.  Rather, the right of publicity is governed by state law.  Moreover, colleges and universities still have the right establish some rules or standards.  For example, although student-athletes can now get paid to endorse a commercial product, they are not automatically entitled to use any NCAA or school trademarks.  Thus, a college basketball player may not be authorized to wear their uniform in advertising unless the school has granted permission.  Can the player wear a uniform with the school colors, but no names or logos?  Can the player endorse an alcoholic product?  Answers will vary state by state and school by school, so it will be extremely important to check with experienced counsel before running any advertising that involves college players.

Now, back to the game …
Continue Reading NCAA Tournament Advertising:  Use of Trademarks and … One More Thing (2022 Update – Part 2)

With the 2022 NCAA Collegiate Basketball Tournament about to begin, as faithful readers of this blog know, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use of terms and logos associated with the tournament (see, for instance, our articles last year about this same time, here and here).  In addition, starting this year, there is another issue to consider, which I will discuss tomorrow.

NCAA Trademarks

The NCAA owns the well-known marks March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four®, Women’s Final Four®, Elite Eight,® and The Road to the Final Four® (with and without the word “The”), each of which is a federally registered trademark.  The NCAA does not own “Sweet Sixteen” – someone else does – but it does have federal registrations for NCAA Sweet Sixteen® and NCAA Sweet 16®.

The NCAA also has federal registrations for some lesser known marks, including March Mayhem®, March Is On®, Midnight Madness®, Selection Sunday®, 68 Teams, One Dream®, And Then There Were Four®, and NCAA Fast Break®.

Some of these marks are used to promote the basketball tournament or the coverage of the tournament, while others are used on merchandise, such as t-shirts.  The NCAA also uses (or licenses) variations on these marks without seeking registration, but it can claim common law rights in those marks, such as March Madness Live, March Madness Music Festival and Final Four Fan Fest.
Continue Reading NCAA Tournament Advertising:  Use of Trademarks and … One More Thing (2022 Update – Part 1)

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’s Enforcement Bureau issued a Notice of Apparent Liability proposing a $20,000 fine on an iHeart radio station for

In the last week, the FCC issued proposed fines to two big radio companies for alleged violations of FCC requirements. One proposed fine was for apparent violations of the FCC’s EEO rules, and the other dealt with the obligations of broadcasters to disclose and follow rules for on-air contests.  In both cases, the proposed fines focused on paperwork issues, not necessarily substantive issues.  These decisions seem to signal to the broadcast industry generally that they need to dot every “I” and cross every “T” to avoid penalties like those proposed in these cases.

The EEO Notice of Apparent Liability, issued unanimously by all four FCC Commissioners, proposed a $32,000 fine on Cumulus Media because of one Annual EEO Public File Report that was uploaded to the online public file of co-owned stations in a Georgia market about 9 months after the due date for uploading the report (and the link to that report on each stations’ website was also missing for that period).  In addition, the FCC said that another fine for failing to self-assess the station’s EEO program was warranted. Broadcasters are required to regularly assess the effectiveness of their EEO program.  But what was that failure to assess?  The evidence relied on in issuing this fine was that the public file report had not been uploaded for over 9 months so, if the licensee had been regularly assessing its program, it would have noted that the required report had not made it to the online public file.  The decision did not cite any failure by the licensee to recruit widely when it had open positions, nor any failure of the group to conduct the required EEO non-vacancy specific outreach (described in our posts here and here).  The alleged violations cited in the decision were simply tied to the failure to upload the required documents.  While the base fines for these violations totaled less than $10,000, the proposed fine was increased because Cumulus previously had been found to have had FCC rule violations for EEO and sponsorship identification matters.
Continue Reading Two Proposed FCC Fines Suggest Tougher Enforcement – $32,000 for EEO Paperwork Issues and $20,000 for Alleged Contest Rule Violations

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

Ads planned to run in yesterday’s Super Bowl by Republican candidates in primaries to select candidates for 2022 senate elections drew comments and controversy even before the game, with some calls to block the ads from the air.  Ads for a candidate in Pennsylvania used the “Let’s Go Brandon” language generally acknowledged to be an allusion to a profanity directed at President Biden (see article here).  In Arizona, a Senate candidate showed the candidate in a fictionalized old west high noon shootout with characters playing President Biden, Nancy Pelosi and Senator Mark Kelly (see article here), which some found particularly offensive because of its associating gun violence with Kelly whose wife, Gabby Giffords, was a victim of such violence while serving in Congress.  There were calls for the stations running the game to reject these ads, or for the FCC to penalize stations for those ads.  While popular sentiment may call for such actions, the law does not allow that to happen,

We have written about this issue many times before (see, for instance, our refreshers on the rules with respect to candidate ads, here and our article here), yet these issues still come up all the time whenever a legally qualified candidate produces a controversial ad.  Broadcasters need to know the rules so that they don’t pull an ad that they are not allowed to censor under the FCC’s rules, and that they don’t run one for which they could in fact have liability.
Continue Reading Controversial Super Bowl Political Ads on Local Stations – Why They Can’t Be Pulled

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.

  • Global Music Rights (GMR) and the Radio Music Licensing Committee (RMLC) announced that enough broadcasters had agreed to GMR licensing

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

  • The FCC released the results of the August 11 Nationwide EAS Test, finding that, compared to the 2019 test