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David Oxenford represents broadcasting and digital media companies in connection with regulatory, transactional and intellectual property issues. He has represented broadcasters and webcasters before the Federal Communications Commission, the Copyright Royalty Board, courts and other government agencies for over 30 years.

The Copyright Royalty Board yesterday published in the Federal Register the proposed rates for the public performance of musical compositions by noncommercial broadcasters for the period 2023 through 2027.  The rates reflect settlements between ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR with various organizations representing noncommercial broadcasters. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting agreed to one set of rates paid to cover NPR and PBS affiliates. The NRB (the religious broadcasters’ organization) has a Noncommercial Music License Committee that agreed to another set of rates that apply to non-NPR radio stations not owned by colleges and universities, setting out rates that these noncommercial stations pay to each of these rights collection agencies. For these radio stations, the rates are based on the population served by each noncommercial station. College and university-owned stations can take advantage of a third set of rates, based primarily on the number of students in the school with which the station is affiliated.  Comments and objections, if any, to these proposed rates are due on or before February 27, 2023.

Commercial broadcasters have royalty rates that are to be paid to these performing rights organizations (or “PROs”) set not through the Copyright Royalty Board but instead through varying processes.  ASCAP and BMI are subject to antitrust consent decrees (see our articles here and here on arguments about those decrees).  The decrees provide that, if the PRO cannot reach an agreement with representatives of the commercial radio industry (usually the Radio Music License Committee – see our article on RMLC here – although commercial religious broadcasters also negotiate rates with these entities through the NRB), a US District Court judge in New York will hold a trial, acting as a “rate court” to determine the amount for reasonable rates.  ASCAP and BMI are currently negotiating with the RMLC on new rates for commercial broadcasters.  SESAC is also subject to antitrust settlements with both the RMLC and the TV Music License Committee.  If SESAC and the committees cannot reach agreements, an arbitration panel sets the rates (see our articles here and here on radio rates set as a result of this process).  After prolonged litigation with GMR to have their rates reviewed in some manner, the RMLC last year dropped its lawsuit seeking that relief and GMR now has no oversight as to the rates it charges (see our article on the GMR license that resulted).  Noncommercial broadcasting, however, under Section 118 of the Copyright Act, has its PRO obligations set by the Copyright Royalty Board and, like this year, the result is almost always a settlement between the parties (even though, theoretically, the Board could hold hearings to set the rates if the parties had not agreed to the rates). 

Continue Reading CRB Releases Proposed ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR Rates for Noncommercial Broadcasters

Royalties paid for the use of music by broadcasters and digital media companies, and other issues about music rights, can be an incredibly dense subject, with nuances that can be overlooked.  I participated in a CLE webinar earlier this week, sponsored by the Federal Communications Bar Association, where we tried to demystify some of the issues in music licensing (see description here).  I moderated a panel on the Hot Topics in Music Licensing, talking about the broadcast performance royalty, the appeal of the webcasting royalty decision, issues about the proliferation of performing rights organizations seeking royalties for the public performance of musical compositions, and more theoretical issues about the entire process of clearing music for use by broadcasters and other businesses.  To highlight some of the issues, and some of the tensions in the world of music royalties, I put together the attached article.  Hopefully, it provides some context on the relationship between some of these hot topics, and gives some food for thought as to how these issues can be addressed. 

As 2023 begins, our “Hot Topics” panel will look at some of the current legal and policy issues in music licensing that may be relevant to the communications industry.  Most of the issues we will discuss are ones that have been debated, in one form or another, in copyright circles for decades.  But, as copyright can be so complicated with many stakeholders with differing interests, the chances of any final resolution to any of these issues may well be small.  This article is meant to put some of those debates in context, as many of the specific issues, in one way or another, are intertwined. 

The issue that likely will be the most contentious this year (and has been for decades) is the continuing effort of the recording industry to establish a public performance right in sound recordings that would apply to non-digital performances.  For over 25 years, recording artists and the record labels (which usually hold the copyrights to popular recordings) have had a right to a performance royalty for digital performances.  Broadcasters who stream an online simulcast of their programming, along with webcasters and others who make non-interactive digital transmissions, must pay a performance royalty, generally to SoundExchange.  The rates to be paid are set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  But in the US, over-the-air broadcasters, restaurants, bars, clubs, retail establishments, and others who publicly perform music pay only for the performance of the musical compositions (the “musical work”), not for the performance of the song as recorded by a particular artist (the “sound recording”).  That has been a point of contention for a century, almost from the moment when recorded music first appeared, but the issue has become particularly heated in the last two decades, once the sound recording public performance right was established after being mandated by copyright legislation in the late 1990s.

Continue Reading  An Overview of the Hot Policy Topics in Music Licensing

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.

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.

  • On Tuesday, January 17, the Public Notice that initiates the 2022 quadrennial review of the FCC’s media ownership rules is

2023 has begun – and everyone is speculating as to what the New Year will bring.  Last week, we published an article looking at some of the regulatory issues that the FCC will potentially deal with this year.  But some regulatory dates are already on the calendar, and broadcasters need to be aware of the obligations that they impose.  So, each year, at about this time, we put together a look at the regulatory dates ahead for broadcasters.  This year is no different – and we offer for your review our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar for 2023.  While this calendar should not be viewed as an exhaustive list of every regulatory date that your station will face, it highlights many of the most important dates for broadcasters in the coming year – including dates for EEO Public Inspection File ReportsQuarterly Issues Programs listschildren’s television obligations, annual fee obligations, retransmission consent/must-carry elections, the Biennial Ownership Report due later this year, and much more.

There seem to be fewer dates highlighted than on last year’s calendar.  That’s because there are two sets of deadlines that are not as significant this year.  With the license renewal cycle almost at its end, the calendar just contains information about license renewals for the 4 states (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware) whose television stations have license renewal applications due in the last two renewal cycles (February 1 deadlines for New York and New Jersey TV stations, and April 1 for stations in the other two states). 

Continue Reading Broadcasters’ Calendar – A Look Ahead to the Regulatory Dates for 2023

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.

  • In a Public Notice released late on Friday, the FCC’s Media Bureau extended the deadline for the upload of Quarterly

Late last year, the FCC announced that it would be opening the EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS) for the filing of ETRS Form One by February 28, 2023.  This week, the FCC issued a Public Notice announcing that that system has in fact been opened, and telling broadcasters that they can now file the required information.  As made clear in the Public Notice, virtually all broadcasters need to file.  This includes LPTV (with minor exceptions) and LPFM stations.  Class D FM stations, exempt from some other FCC regulations, and silent stations also need to file.  Only FM boosters and translators, and other broadcast stations (including LPTVs) that rebroadcast 100% of the programming of a “hub station” where that hub station provides a common studio or control point for all stations, do not need to file this report as long as the “hub station” files the form.  So the requirement is very inclusive. 

ETRS Form One provides basic information about EAS participants to the FCC. The form requests basic information about contact persons at a station, the model of EAS equipment used, and monitoring assignments under the legacy EAS system.  If nothing has changed from prior Form One filings, the Public Notice says that the system provides a way to populate the form with all the information from prior filings so that it does not need to be manually re-entered (although anecdotally we have heard that even minor changes, such as a call sign change, may be problematic).  This is the first of three forms filed in connection with Nationwide EAS tests, testing the ability of the EAS system to distribute a Presidential emergency alert to the entire country.  Form Two reports on the day of the test as to whether the alert was received by a station, while Form Three is submitted after the test to provide information as to what happened during the test.

Continue Reading FCC Announces that Broadcasters Must File EAS Test Reporting System Form One By February 28, 2023 – Almost All Broadcasters Must File

It’s a new year, and it’s time to look ahead at what Washington may have in store for broadcasters this year.  The FCC may be slow to tackle some of the big issues on its agenda (like the completion of 2018 Quadrennial Review or any other significant partisan issue) as it still has only four Commissioners – two Democrats and two Republicans.  On controversial issues like changes to the ownership rules, there tends to be a partisan divide.  As the nomination of Gigi Sohn expired at the end of the last Congress in December, the Biden administration was faced with the question of whether to renominate her and hope that the confirmation process moves more quickly this time, or to come up with a new nominee whose credentials will be reviewed by the Senate.  It was announced this week that the administration has decided to renominate her, meaning that her confirmation process will begin anew.  How long that process takes and when the fifth commissioner is seated may well set the tone for what actions the FCC takes in broadcast regulation this year.

Perhaps the most significant issue at the FCC facing broadcasters is the resolution of the 2018 Quadrennial Review to assess the current local ownership rules and determine if they are still in the public interest.  As we wrote last week, the FCC has already started the 2022 review, as required by Congress, even though it has not resolved the issues raised in the 2018 review.  For the radio industry, those issues include the potential relaxation of the local radio ownership rules.  As we have written, some broadcasters and the NAB have pushed the FCC to recognize that the radio industry has significantly changed since the ownership limits were adopted in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and local radio operators need a bigger platform from which to compete with the new digital companies that compete for audience and advertising in local markets.  Other companies have been reluctant to endorse changes – but even many of them recognize that relief from the ownership limits on AM stations would be appropriate.

Continue Reading Looking Into the Crystal Ball – What’s Coming in Broadcast Regulation in 2023 From the FCC

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

  • The FCC, as required by the Communications Act, released a Public Notice announcing the start of the 2022 Quadrennial

The new year brings a series of regulatory deadlines in January and a February 1 license renewal deadline that broadcasters should take note of.  As in 2022, the FCC will remain vigilant in making sure that its deadlines are met, so the following items should not be overlooked or left until the last minute.

The