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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.

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 Federal Trade Commission issued a press release which warns advertisers to avoid misleading endorsements. The FTC also sent a

The Copyright Office, at the request of Congress, has initiated a study to examine the rights and protections of news publishers under copyright and related laws.  The Office issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking public comment on a variety of issues that could extend new protections to “press publishers” and perhaps other content creators that go beyond those accorded by traditional principles of copyright law.  The Office terms these protections “ancillary copyright protections.”  The Notice of Inquiry tees up several specific proposals for consideration, asks many specific questions, and solicits additional ideas that should be considered to protect publishers.  Comments are due November 26, 2021.  The Copyright Office will also hold a virtual public roundtable on December 9 to consider these issues.  This study could have an impact both on traditional media outlets who produce content, and on digital media that shares those comments.

The impact of digital media on traditional publishers of content – especially news content – was the trigger for this review.  The Notice begins with a recitation of the financial impact that the growth of the internet has had on newspapers and other publishers (“publication” under the Copyright Act is the distribution of a copy or recording of a work to the public by sale, rental, lease, or lending.  While a pure public performance does not constitute publication, digital subscription services and similar on-demand uses of content would likely fit within this definition).  In its opening paragraphs, the Notice focuses on digital “news aggregators” and their impact on publishers.  The Notice takes a broad view of the term aggregator – talking not just of headline clipping sites devoted to specific topics, but also to broader digital media sites like Facebook and Google that feature content from a variety of other sources.  While recognizing that aggregators can drive traffic to publisher’s digital content, the Copyright Office seeks comment on whether these aggregators also harm publishers by sending traffic only to specific articles and not to an index or home page for a publisher where a viewer might be inclined to view more content (and perhaps more of the publisher’s own ads).  From that opening discussion of news aggregators, the Notice looks at possible “ancillary” rights that may assist publishers in overcoming any negative impact of aggregators. These are discussed below.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Initiates Study of “Ancillary Copyright Protections” Accorded to Publishers – Reviewing News Aggregation and Digital Media’s Use of News Content from Traditional Sources

A recent controversial court of appeals decision on a defamation claim brought by Congressman Devin Nunes sends a signal to broadcasters about the care they need to give to reviewing commercial messages – particularly political attack ads – when questions are raised as to the truth of the assertions made in those ads.  As we have written before, broadcasters are immune from civil liability for defamation claims when they broadcast an ad from the campaign of a legally qualified candidate, as a station cannot censor a candidate ad.  Because broadcasters must transmit the ad as produced, they are immune from liability for its content.  But ads from non-candidate groups, including political parties and PACs, can be censored by stations – so stations that decide to run such ads are subject to liability for their content.  Under Supreme Court precedent, defamation of a public figure (like a political candidate) is found when material is transmitted to the public that is false and results in injuries to the candidate plus, unique to public figures, the ad was transmitted with “actual malice.” Malice means that it was transmitted either knowing that the ad was false or having reason to believe that it was false.  See our article here about the analysis of this issue in other cases.  When a broadcaster receives objections alleging that content in the ad is false, it can be argued that the station has been put on notice that it has an obligation to assess the truth of the ad, and thus would need to take it down if the ad includes defamatory claims being made.

We recently wrote about the opinions from two Supreme Court justices suggesting that it should be easier for public figures to prove defamation claims. The case that led to the recent court of appeals decision began when Congressman Nunes brought a defamation lawsuit in response to a magazine’s publication of allegations that his family’s farm used illegal migrant labor and suggested that his political positions against immigration were thus hypocritical.  That lawsuit urged the same change in defamation law suggested in the Supreme Court opinions, and also alleged that the implications in the article were false, as Nunes know nothing about the migrant laborers.  A few months later, a reporter tweeted a link to the article, suggesting that his twitter followers look at the allegations in the article.  While the court found that the article itself was not defamatory (since the publisher had no reason to believe the information in the article was false at the time of publication, and thus acted without malice), it also found that the reporter’s tweet was potentially defamatory since, after the article was published, Nunes had filed his lawsuit against the magazine claiming that the article’s suggestion that he knew about the illegal workers was false.  The court held that a summary decision in favor of the reporter was not proper, finding that a jury could determine that the reporter’s tweet was defamatory even though the underlying article was not, as the tweet came after the claim by Nunes that he knew nothing about the illegal workers.
Continue Reading Defamation by Tweet – Court Case Reminds Broadcasters to Take Cease and Desist Requests about Attack Ads Seriously

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 Copyright Office initiated a study of the rights of publishers, to explore ways to assist local journalism. The notice

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 issued a Public Notice to remind potential applicants of the upcoming filing window for applications for construction permits

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.

  • ViacomCBS and its subsidiary Pluto TV agreed to pay $3.5 million and enter into a consent decree with the FCC

As we enter the last quarter of the year, the broadcasters’ October calendar is full of important regulatory dates and deadlines.  We share some of those dates below and urge you to stay in close touch with your lawyers, engineers, and consultants for the dates and deadlines applicable to your station’s operations.

On or before October 1, radio stations in Alaska, American Samoa, Guam, Hawaii, Marianas Islands, Oregon, and Washington and TV stations in Iowa and Missouri must submit their license renewal applications.  Pay close attention to the contents of your online public file and be sure that all required documents are complete and were uploaded on time.  Stations filing their renewals (other than LPFMs) are also required to file a Broadcast EEO Program Report (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 396), submitting two years of EEO Public File reports for FCC review unless your employment unit employs fewer than 5 full-time employees.  As you are putting the final touches on your applications, be sure to read the instructions for the license renewal application (radio, TV) and consult with counsel if you have questions.
Continue Reading October Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewals, Broadcast Ownership Filings, Quarterly Issues/Programs Lists, Rulemaking Comment Dates and More

We are nearing the end of September and, in many jurisdictions we are in the heart of political season – though mostly for state and local elections. While most broadcast stations don’t think much about the FCC’s political broadcasting rules in odd-numbered years, they are required to do so, as races for state and local political offices trigger most of the same FCC obligations as do races for federal office.  There are particularly hard-fought elections for Governor in November in Virginia and New Jersey, and all sorts of state and local elections around the country.  These include some mayoral races in major US cities.  Thus, it is worth repeating the reminders that we have published before: most of the political rules apply to these state and local electoral races so broadcasters need to be paying attention.

Whether the race is for Governor or much more locally focused, like elections for state legislatures, school boards or town councils, stations need to be prepared. Candidates for state and local elections are entitled to virtually all of the political broadcasting rights of Federal candidates – with one exception, the right of reasonable access which is reserved solely for Federal candidates. That means that only Federal candidates have the right to demand access to all classes and dayparts of advertising time that a broadcast station sells. As we wrote in our summary of reasonable access, here, that does not mean that Federal candidates can demand as much time as they want, only that stations must sell them a reasonable amount of advertising during the various classes of advertising time sold on the station. For state and local candidates, on the other hand, stations don’t need to sell the candidates any advertising time at all. But, if they do, the other political rules apply.
Continue Reading Remember – Political Ads for State and Local Races Trigger FCC Political Obligations

Here are some of the regulatory developments from 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.

  • At the last minute, the deadline for broadcasters to pay their annual regulatory fees was extended to Monday, September

Comments are due on September 30 on the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to bring back some form of the old FCC Form 395B, the Annual Employment Report.  That form required broadcasters to report on the racial and gender make-up of their workforce in various employment categories.  The use of the form has been on hold for almost two decades after two rulings from the US Court of Appeals that found it was unconstitutional for the FCC to use the information collected from the Form 395B to determine if a broadcaster’s license renewal application deserved extra scrutiny.  In effect, the court found using the reports in this way compelled broadcasters to make hiring decisions based on the race and gender of employment candidates, which was discriminatory and thus could not be compelled by the FCC.

This created a tension between a law requiring that the FCC gather information on the racial and gender make-up of the broadcast workforce to determine if affirmative action efforts should be made on an industry-wide basis, versus  the prohibition on gathering this information on a station-specific basis where the temptation would always be to look at a specific station’s data and make assumptions about whether it had been  in making employment decisions in color blind manner.  While the FCC has over the last two decades repeatedly considered bringing back the form to collect information on an industry-wide basis, questions have always arisen as to how the accuracy and completeness of that information could be assured if the information gathered did not identify the station providing it.  And, once that information was in hand, would it be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) obligations that could force its disclosure which could lead to it potentially being used in an enforcement context?
Continue Reading The Return of FCC Form 395B?  – The FCC Looks at Reviving Reports on the Race and Gender of Broadcast Employees