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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.

Facebook will disable “new” political ads the week before this year’s November mid-term election (see its post on this policy here), just as many broadcast stations will be struggling with commercial inventory issues, trying to get last minute political ads on the air without having to dump all of their regular commercial advertisers who will be just starting to ramp up their commercial campaigns for the holiday season.  We’ve written previously about how the legal policies that govern Facebook and other online platforms are different than those that govern broadcast, local cable, and direct broadcast satellite (DBS) political ad sales.  Many of the policies adopted by these online platforms could not be adopted by broadcasters, local cable and DBS companies.  In light of Facebook’s recent announcement and the upcoming election, we thought that we would recap some of our previous reviews of this issue.

In June 2021, we wrote about Facebook’s plans to end its policy of not subjecting posts by elected officials to the same level of scrutiny by its Oversight Board that it applies to other platform users.  Facebook’s announced policy has been that the newsworthiness of posts by politicians and elected officials was such that it outweighed Facebook’s uniform application of its Community Standards – although it did make exceptions for calls to violence and questions of election integrity, and where posts linked to other offending content.  Just a year before, there were calls for Facebook to take more aggressive steps to police misinformation on its platforms. These calls grew out of the debate over the need to revise Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which insulates online platforms from liability for posts by unrelated parties on those platforms (see our article here on Section 230).
Continue Reading Facebook to Reject New Political Ads the Week Before the November Election – Why Broadcasters Can’t Do That

We have been receiving numerous calls from broadcasters about “franking” ads from Congressional representatives running for reelection.  Congress each year allows its members to spend certain amounts of money to communicate with their constituents.  This was traditionally done through mailings, which Congressional representatives could send through the US mail without any postage charges (hence the name “franking” deriving from a French word for “free”).  This privilege was later extended to allow the representatives to use broadcast media, but stations are paid for such spots.  These franking messages cannot be used for political messages, and the messages cannot be run during the 60 days before any election.  They tend to talk about how Congressional staff can help constituents with problems accessing government benefits or about how government programs can help residents in their districts.  But just because the messages are not in and of themselves political does not mean that the messages do not have implications under the FCC’s political broadcasting rules.

These franking ads are almost always voiced by the representative (for radio) or have a visual appearance of the representative (for TV).  If the representative is running for reelection, and has qualified for a place on the ballot (for a primary or general election) or will run as a bona fide write-in candidate (see our post here about write-in candidates), then the ads can have FCC political broadcasting implications.  As with any other appearance of a legally qualified candidate on the air outside an exempt program (exempt programs being news or news interview programs or documentaries not about the candidate – see our article here), the recognizable voice or image of a candidate is a “use” by that candidate that triggers equal opportunities for opposing candidates. As we wrote here about advertisers who appear in their company’s commercials and then decide to run for political office, those uses need to be noted in a station’s political file (providing all the information about the sponsor, schedule and price of the ad, as you would for any pure political buy). The use would also trigger equal opportunities, meaning that any opposing candidate can request an equivalent amount of airtime.  But that does not necessarily mean that a station needs to reject these franking ads.
Continue Reading Watch for Congressional “Franking” Ads in the Last Weeks Before the Pre-Election Period – The FCC Political Broadcasting Implications

Recent press reports have talked much about a Texas church that decided to put on a production of the musical Hamilton – both live and streamed via YouTube.  The church not only put on the performance of the musical, but also adapted the script to include material with religious themes not included in the original version.  Lin-Manual Miranda, the creator of the musical, was reported to say that, following the discovery of the unauthorized performances, “now the lawyers do their work.”  But just what did the church do wrong?  This case serves as an illustration of how copyright issues pervade society – and these issues are often ignored until an improper use is discovered by a rightsholder or their representative. At that point, the user often gets a quick education in the significant potential penalties they face from ignoring the law.

Like all other copyrighted works, among the rights given to creators of a musical like Hamilton is the right to consent to the public performance of that work.  We have written how that right to consent to public performances is in some cases restricted by statutory or blanket licenses, where the government (either directly, through the Copyright Royalty Board for public performances of sound recordings and the use of musical compositions by noncommercial broadcasters, or indirectly through antitrust consent decrees or settlement agreements that apply to ASCAP, BMI and, in some instances, SESAC – see our article here on some of the issues with these rights).  There are other statutory licenses giving, for instance, cable and satellite television providers the rights to retransmit broadcast stations in exchange for the payment of statutorily set fees (see our articles here and here for some examples of the issues with these statutory licenses). For most other copyrighted works, like plays and musicals, that right to restrict the public performance of a work is not restricted by statutory licenses.  And the writers of theatrical works are diligent in enforcing their copyrights.  So every junior high school performance of The Music Man, or community theater performance of Rent, should be licensed by the representatives of the copyright holders in these works.
Continue Reading A Church Gets Called Out for Adaptation of “Hamilton” – Looking at the Copyright Issues

The FCC last Friday released its second EEO audit notice for 2022 (available here), this time targeting approximately 130 radio and TV stations.  Those stations, and the station employment units (commonly owned stations serving the same area) with which they are associated, must provide to the FCC (by uploading the information to their online public inspection file) their last two years of EEO Annual Public File reports, as well as backing data to show that the station in fact did everything that was required under the FCC rules.

Audited stations must provide sample copies of notices sent to employment outreach sources about each full-time vacancy at the stations, as well as documentation of the supplemental efforts that all station employment units with 5 or more full-time employees are required to perform (whether or not they had job openings in any year). These non-vacancy specific outreach efforts are designed, for example, to educate the community about broadcast employment positions and to train employees for more senior roles in broadcasting. Stations must also provide, in response to the audit, information about how they self-assessed the performance of their EEO program. Information about any pending or resolved proceedings involving discrimination claims must also be reported.  Stations that are listed in the audit notice have until October 7, 2022, to upload this information and other specified information about their EEO program to their online public file.  One new note on this audit – the FCC will not inform audited stations that their EEO performance was found satisfactory, but the Commission’s staff will inquire if they have questions or concerns about the performance of any employment unit.
Continue Reading FCC Releases Second EEO Audit Notice for 2022 – Reviewing a Broadcaster’s EEO Obligations

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 August 19, 2022, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued the second set of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) audit letters for

Last week, the FCC entered into a consent decree with the operator of a low power TV station, where the broadcaster admitted to violating FCC rules by selling advertising packages that included guaranteed appearances of the advertiser on a local news and information program, without any notice to viewers that the programming was sponsored.  The decree imposed a 5-year compliance plan on the licensee, requiring the training of employees on sponsorship identification requirements of the FCC rules, the adoption of plans to ensure that the issue does not arise again, and the reporting to the FCC of any similar issues that arise in the future.  In addition, the licensee had to pay a $60,000 penalty – and the language of the decree suggests that this fine would have been significantly larger had the licensee been able to pay more (as it was, the licensee is allowed to pay off the penalty in $1000 per month increments). This penalty should not be a surprise, as the conduct raises significant sponsorship identification issues, as well as a host of issues under the FCC’s political broadcasting rules.

Having paid appearances in local programming without a sponsorship identification has in the past been a source of FCC concern – and has resulted in big penalties where a sponsor is not disclosed to the public.  For instance, we wrote here about a fine of more than $13 million imposed on Sinclair Broadcasting for running feature stories about a local cancer institute that had been promised to the institute as part of a paid advertising package, without disclosing the payment on-air.  Any time a broadcaster receives anything of value in exchange for saying something on the air, the broadcaster needs to disclose that consideration and who provided it.  Even program suppliers need to disclose that they have been paid when they have been paid to say something on the air.  For more information, see, for example our article here where a TV political commentator was required to disclose that he was being paid to support certain political positions, and our article here on requiring program syndicators to make clear when programming they provide has been sponsored.  The FCC’s recent rules about the disclosure of foreign government-sponsored programming (see our articles here and here) also require that broadcasters assure that any buyer of program time on the station has not itself been paid by a foreign government or their agent to say something in their programming.
Continue Reading $60,000 Fine on LPTV Station For Political Broadcasting and Sponsorship Identification Issues with Ad Packages Containing News Program Appearances

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.

  • The FCC’s Media Bureau released a consent decree, including the payment of a $60,000 penalty, with an LPTV station

FCC staff earlier this week released a Public Notice reminding TV stations and other video programming providers, including cable and satellite television providers, of their obligation to make emergency information accessible for all viewers.  With a few tweaks, the reminder is very similar to what the FCC has issued in past years.  Here is what we wrote about that notice in the past, equally applicable to the one released this week:

The FCC provides examples of the kinds of emergencies that the rules are intended to cover – which for the first time this year includes pandemics.  Other examples of the emergencies that these obligations would apply to include “tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, tidal waves, earthquakes, icing conditions, heavy snows, widespread fires, discharge of toxic gases, widespread power failures, industrial explosions, civil disorders, school closings and changes in school bus schedules resulting from such conditions, and warnings and watches of impending changes in weather.”  The details that must be conveyed to the entire audience include “specific details regarding the areas that will be affected by the emergency, evacuation orders, detailed descriptions of areas to be evacuated, specific evacuation routes, approved shelters or the way to take shelter in one’s home, instructions on how to secure personal property, road closures, and how to obtain relief assistance.”  The obligations are intended to cover not just the area where the emergency is occurring, but also in adjacent areas that may be affected by the effects of the emergency – and the obligations extend not just to the immediate time of the emergency but also to information about dealing with its aftermath.  What do these rules require?
Continue Reading FCC Issues Annual Reminder on the Need for Accessibility of Emergency Information from Video Providers

Last week, both the FCC and FEMA issued notices to broadcasters, cable and other EAS participants that there was a vulnerability in the EAS technologies that could make those systems subject to hacking, potentially allowing bad actors to send out messages to the public using the alerting system (see FCC notice here and FEMA notice

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.

  • Both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the FCC released public notices, available here and here, alerting broadcasters