Photo of David Oxenford

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.

Noncommercial radio stations ignoring their FCC public file obligations should be expecting to enter into consent decrees at license renewal time obligating them to take formal steps to monitor compliance and submit information to the FCC on any issues that arise.  In the last few weeks, we have seen at least four such decrees announced by the FCC (e.g. here, here, and here) imposing such obligations in exchange for the grant of pending renewal applications.  In each consent decree, the FCC notes the hardships imposed by the pandemic, presumably suggesting that, had these been more ordinary times, the licensees would have faced steeper penalties.

The consent decrees themselves resemble the consent decrees entered into between the FCC and commercial broadcasters who have not adequately maintained the documents required to be in the political file that is part of each commercial station’s public inspection file (see our articles here and here).  The four recent consent decrees with the noncommercial broadcasters require that they take the following actions:

  • They must appoint a Compliance Officer – a senior manager who will report to the “Chief Executive Officer” or equivalent of the licensee. The Compliance Officer is responsible for making sure that the licensee observes all public file obligations and all terms of the consent decree.
  • Within 30 days, the licensee must adopt a Compliance Plan that includes:
    • A written Compliance Manual explaining all requirements of the public file rules and is distributed to all employees who deal with any aspect of the rules.
    • A training program must be conducted for all employees on their obligations under the public file rules.
  • A year after the effective date of the Consent Decree, the licensee must submit a Compliance Report to the FCC certifying its compliance with the rules and how it complied.
  • If in any instance, the licensee does not comply with the rules, it must report any instance of noncompliance to the FCC within 10 days of its discovery.

As we noted here in the case of a commercial broadcaster who did not comply with the terms of a consent decree, noncompliance can bring big penalties.
Continue Reading Noncommercial Stations – Don’t Forget Your Public File Obligations – The FCC is Watching!

The Copyright Office this week granted a request from the Copyright Royalty Board for more time to decide on the royalties to be paid to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings by webcasters, including broadcasters who simulcast their programming on the Internet.  As we wrote in July, the CRB decision on

Earlier this month, the FCC proposed changes to its Emergency Alert System (EAS) rules and initiated an inquiry as to whether EAS should be expanded to require streaming services to carry local emergency alerts (see our article here on those proposals).  These proposals have now been published in the Federal Register, starting the public

After so much turmoil in the last year, radio stations may be inclined to blow off some steam this year with some big April Fools” Day stunt.  But because of the continuing issues with the pandemic and social tensions throughout the country, a prank that may seem funny to some could trigger concerns with others.  As we do every year about this time, we need to play our role as attorneys and ruin any fun that you may be planning by repeating our reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other on-air bits prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes.  Issues under this rule can arise at any time, but a broadcaster’s temptation to go over the line is probably highest on April 1.

The FCC’s rule against broadcast hoaxes, Section 73.1217, prevents stations from running any information about a “crime or catastrophe” on the air, if the broadcaster (1) knows the information to be false, (2) it is reasonably foreseeable that the broadcast of the material will cause substantial public harm and (3) public harm is in fact caused.  Public harm is defined as “direct and actual damage to property or to the health or safety of the general public, or diversion of law enforcement or other public health and safety authorities from their duties.”  If you air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, you should expect to be fined by the FCC.
Continue Reading Plan April Fools’ Day On-Air Stunts With Care – Remember the FCC Hoax Rule

A few weeks ago, the news was abuzz with the controversy over an Australian law that would make social media companies and even search engines pay for their making available content originating with traditional media outlets.  While the controversy was hot, there were articles in many general interest publications asking whether that model could work outside Australia – and perhaps whether such a bill could even be adopted in the US.  What has received far less notice in the popular press was a US version of that bill that was recently introduced in Congress to address some of the same issues.  The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021 was not introduced in response to the Australian law, but instead it is an idea that pre-dated the overseas action.  Versions of the US bill have been introduced in prior sessions of Congress, though it never before gained much attention.  But this year’s version has been introduced in both the House and the Senate, has already been the subject of a Congressional committee hearing, and has gained support (including from the National Association of Broadcasters and even the tech company Microsoft).

The intent of these bills, and other similar legislation considered across the world, is to open a new revenue stream for traditional media outlets which cover local news – outlets that have been hit hard by the online media revolution over the last 25 years.  As we have noted in other contexts (see for instance our articles here and here), as huge digital media platforms have developed in this century, these platforms have taken away over half the local advertising revenue in virtually all media markets – revenues that had supported local journalism.  The perception is that this has been done without significantly adding to the coverage of local issues and events in these markets.  We certainly have seen the economics of the newspaper industry severely impacted, with many if not most newspapers cutting staff and local coverage, and even how often the papers are published.  Broadcasting, too, has felt the impact.  Many legislators across the globe have come to the conclusion that these digital platforms attract audiences by featuring content created by the traditional media sources that have been so impacted by online operations.  To preserve and support original news sources, various ways in which the content creators can be compensated for the use of their works, such as the legislation in the US and Australia, are being explored.  We thought it worth looking at proposed legislation in the US and comparing it to the more extensive legislation introduced in Australia, and to highlight some of the issues that may arise in connection with such regulatory proposals.
Continue Reading Making the Tech Giants Pay to Use Traditional Media News Content – Looking at the Legislative Issues

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.

  • We noted last week that updated fees for broadcast applications would take effect April 19. After clarification from the FCC,

After a long winter, spring has finally arrived and has brought with it more daylight and warmer temperatures—two occurrences that do not necessarily pair well with keeping up with broadcast regulatory dates and deadlines.  Here are some of the important dates coming in April.  Be sure to consult with your FCC counsel on all other important dates applicable to your own operations.

On or before April 1, radio stations in Texas (including LPFM stations) and television stations in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee must file their license renewal applications through the FCC’s Licensing and Management System (LMS).  Those stations must also file with the FCC a Broadcast EEO Program Report (Form 2100, Schedule 396).

Both radio and TV stations in the states listed above with April 1 renewal filing deadlines, as well as radio and TV stations in Delaware and Pennsylvania, if they are part of a station employment unit with 5 or more full-time employees (an employment unit is a station or a group of commonly controlled stations in the same market that share at least one employee), by April 1 must upload to their public file and post a link on their station website to their Annual EEO Public Inspection Report covering their hiring and employment outreach activities for the twelve months from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.
Continue Reading April Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters: License Renewal, Issues/Programs Lists, EEO, Webcasting Royalties and More

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.

Last week, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued an Advisory reminding broadcasters about their obligation to provide sponsorship identification information to their audiences whenever they receive something of value in exchange for airing any programming.  The Enforcement Bureau’s advisory was quite concise, basically just reminding broadcasters of their sponsorship identification obligations.  But the FCC also highlighted two other issues – (1) that broadcasters have an obligation to exercise reasonable diligence to make sure that any third-party program providers also include sponsorship identification when they are paid to include material in programs that they provide to the station and (2) the FCC can impose substantial fines on stations that do not live up to these obligations.

On the question of exercising reasonable diligence in insuring that program providers meet the sponsorship identification obligations, the FCC pointed to this language form Section 317(c) of the Communications Act:

The licensee of each radio station shall exercise reasonable diligence to obtain from its employees, and from other persons with whom it deals directly in connection with any program or program matter for broadcast, information to enable such licensee to make the announcement required by this section.

This means that a broadcaster needs to ask any party providing syndicated programming to a station to ensure that the rules are met.  The same obligation would apply to time brokers who place programming on the station.  The station owner needs to be sure that these programmers are aware of their obligations under the sponsorship identification rules, and that they observe those obligations.  Reminders to program providers, and review of the programs that they provide, would seem to be part of this reasonable diligence obligation.  We have previously written about this requirement – see for instance our article here.
Continue Reading FCC Issues Reminder On Sponsorship Identification Requirements – Including Obligation to Ensure Syndicated and Brokered Program Providers Comply With the Rules

With Dr. Seuss recently in the news for the decision of his estate to pull from publication certain books that were racially insensitive, we thought that we would go back and look at another decision involving the good doctor that we did not get around to reviewing when it came out at the end of last year – the decision that a book, Oh, The Places that You Will Boldly Go, a mash-up of Dr. Seuss and Star Trek, was an infringement on the Seuss’ copyrights and did not qualify for fair use treatment.  Who knew that Dr. Seuss would play such a prominent role in legal and public policy!  As we summarize below, and as we have written before (see for instance our articles here and here), fair use is not a simple concept or one that is as broadly applicable as many in the media industry seem to think.

The decision from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Boldly Go case overturned a lower court opinion finding the book to be a parody of the original Seuss work (Oh, the Places You Will Go), and thus entitled to fair use protection.  The 9th Circuit found that Boldly Go was not a fair use, but instead an improper exploitation of the copyrighted work.  The Court reached its decision by reviewing the factors set out in Section 107 of the Copyright Act that are required for a fair use analysis.  This decision is one which all media companies should review carefully, as it makes clear that fair use is not as broad of a concept as apparently believed.  Importantly, fair use does not cover any use that may be an amusing adaptation of an original work.  For instance, I am often asked by radio companies whether taking a song and substituting a new set of lyrics that provide some funny commentary on some newsworthy topic is fair use.  As is evident from the analysis undertaken in the Boldly Go case, unless the “parody” is making fun of the original copyrighted work, it may well not qualify as a fair use and thus may be subject to a claim of copyright infringement.
Continue Reading Dr. Seuss and Fair Use – Just Because You Make a Funny Version of a Copyrighted Work Does Not Mean that You Will Escape an Infringement Claim