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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.

Our friends at Edison Research recently released a study on music discovery highlighting the ways in which people discover new music.  Among their findings was that broadcast radio, YouTube and streaming services were among the largest sources for that discovery.  That report caused one radio trade publication to suggest that podcasts, which ranked relatively low among the places where new music is discovered, might have opportunities to grow there.  What that suggestion overlooks is one of the biggest reasons that music podcasts have not taken off – rights issues.  There still is no easy way to clear the rights to major label music – so most podcasts are limited to spoken word featuring limited, directly licensed music.

That comment made us think that we should re-run an article from earlier this year, that explained music rights in podcasts.  That article was prompted by the settlement between the Radio Music License Committee and BMI over music royalties for broadcasting.  While a press release about the settlement said that the BMI license includes the use of music in podcasts, we pointed out that radio stations should not assume that means that they can start to play popular music in their podcasts without obtaining the rights to that music directly from rightsholders.  They cannot, as BMI controls only a portion of the rights necessary to use music in podcasts and, without obtaining all of the remaining rights to that music, a podcaster using the music with only a BMI license is looking for a copyright infringement claim.
Continue Reading Using Music in Podcasts – Talk to the Copyright Holders – Why You Can’t Rely on Your ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and SoundExchange Licenses

FCC rules currently prohibit radio stations in the same service (AM or FM) that have over 50% overlap of their principal community contours (the 70 dBu for FM stations and the 5 mV/m contour for AM stations) from duplicating more than 25 per cent of the total hours in their average programming week.  In preparation for the FCC’s open meeting on August 6, the FCC last week released its draft order proposing to eliminate that rule as to AM stations (as we wrote on Friday).  As the draft order looks to eliminate the rule only for AM stations while retaining that rule for FM stations, it is worth taking a deeper look at this tentative decision particularly as one of its implications is that the FCC may well be allowing AM stations to transition to all-digital operations.

The draft decision provides two reasons for eliminating the rule for AM stations.  First, it suggests that the challenging economic and competitive status of AM radio justifies the decision to allow duplication by AM stations that operate in the same area. Keeping a station operational and providing some service is preferred over letting that station go silent.  The economic condition of the AM band was determined to alone be justification for the decision to permit duplication.  But the FCC provided a second reason – one that suggests that the FCC is seriously considering the proposal (about which we wrote here and here) to allow for all-digital AM stations.  In the draft order, the FCC says that allowing AM program duplication would provide an opportunity for an AM station to go all-digital while still broadcasting its programming on another AM station in the current analog format – allowing listeners to hear the station even if they do not yet have a digital AM receiver.
Continue Reading A Deeper Look at the FCC’s Proposal to Eliminate Program Duplication Rules for AM But Not FM Stations – Looking to All Digital AM? 

Here are some of the FCC regulatory and legal actions of the last week—and congressional action in the coming 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.

  • The Media Bureau reminded broadcasters that July 13, 2021—the hard deadline

Broadcast TV stations have until July 31, 2020 to upload to their public file a phone number and email address to be used for receiving signal carriage notices and questions.  This information must be kept current and will be used in the must-carry and retransmission consent carriage election statements that must be uploaded by stations

The FCC earlier this week released its agenda for its August 6 open meeting.  That agenda includes two items of relevance to broadcasters.  First, it proposes to eliminate the rule that prohibits two commonly-owned AM stations (including stations that are under common control or covered by a Time Brokerage or Local Marketing Agreement) that

Tuesday marked the end of the TV repacking following the TV incentive auction – shrinking the TV band by moving all TV stations to channels below what used to be Channel 37 (with a few exceptions for stations given a couple of extra months due to last minute COVID-19 delays, as discussed in the FCC decision here).  The FCC announced the end of the transition in a Press Release, and Chairman Pai delivered remarks on an American Consumer Institute webcast, thanking his staff for making the transition happen.  Remarkably, in the 15-year life of this blog, this is the second time that we have written about the shrinking of the TV band – the first following the transition of television from analog to digital over a decade ago (see, for instance the articles here and here from the 2009 digital transition).

That transition to digital is not complete, as we were reminded by another Public Notice released by the FCC on Monday.  This Public Notice emphasized to LPTV and TV translator operators, some of whom still have not transitioned to digital operations, that they have one more year to do so.  By the end of the day on July 13, 2021, all LPTV and TV translator stations need to be operating in digital or they need to cease operations.  The Public Notice reminds these operators who have construction permits for new digital facilities to extend those permits if they expire without construction completion before next year’s transition deadline – and alerts these operators to file by May 1, 2021 any last-minute modifications of the technical facilities specified in construction permits authorizing their digital transition.  Filing by May 1 gives the FCC sufficient time to process these applications so that any changes can be implemented by the July 13 deadline.
Continue Reading The Evolution of TV – The End of the Repack, a One-Year Reminder to the End of Analog LPTV, and the Start of the ATSC 3.0 Roll-Out

As business adapts to the pandemic so, too, do legal issues.  A couple have come to my attention in recent weeks that I thought bear passing on.  One deals with copyright concerns, the other with FCC matters about use of unlicensed FM transmitters.  Both arise as businesses adapt the way in which they deal with their customers – including how media companies deal with their audiences.

The copyright issues deal with music licensing matters.  Broadcasters are used to having performance licenses that allow them to broadcast music over the air and stream it on the Internet.  Venues for live music have similar licenses, as do hotels and meeting halls where conventions and other meetings take place – often involving the use of music.  But, as people are no longer frequenting these locations, businesses try to recreate their usual ambiance in an online environment using Zoom, Facebook Live, or one of the many other digital platforms that now exist.  If that ambiance includes music or other copyrighted materials, be sure that you have the rights to use those copyrighted materials in the new environment in which your business is operating.
Continue Reading Random Issues to Consider as Media Businesses Adapt to the New World of the Virus – Music Uses on Zoom and Other Platforms, Unlicensed FM Transmitters

Pirate radio operators continue to be a problem – particularly in major metropolitan areas.  The week before last, the FCC resolved two long-pending cases against pirate operators through negotiated settlements.  In one case, the FCC last year initially proposed a fine of $151,005 for the illegal operation.  After examining the operator’s finances, the Bureau agreed

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions 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.

  • FCC fines against two radio stations serve as a reminder that station managers need to pay close attention

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau this week issued two fines, one for $6000 and another for $5200 for violations of its contest rules, as the contests were not conducted as advertised.  In each of these cases, a prize winner was not awarded a prize in a timely manner.  In both cases, the prizes were not provided to winners even after the winners inquired, and, for one reason or another, the stations did not immediately respond to the prize winner to resolve the issue – instead providing substitute prizes only when FCC complaints were filed.  Even though both prize winners appeared satisfied by the substitute prizes and withdrew their complaints, the FCC nevertheless issued the fines finding that the contests had not been conducted as promised, in that the original prizes were not awarded on a timely basis.  While in both cases the delays appeared to simply be the result of station staff not making a priority of determining how to deal with delivering the prizes, these cases serve as a warning to broadcasters to review their contest rules and make sure that station staff understand that, if an unexpected glitch arises, they should not dawdle in working to resolve those issues.

As we have written before, the FCC requires that broadcasters adopt written rules for contests disclosing all material terms of those contests (see our posts here here and here that talk about some of the material rules that need to be covered) and make those rules available to the public.  While the rules can now be posted online instead of having to be read on the air, the station must still alert listeners through on-air announcements as to where those rules are available (see our articles here and here).  In writing their contest rules, the station should anticipate all the glitches that might occur in the contest process and spell out what will happen if one of these problems crops up.  Obviously, a prize becoming unavailable is a frequent issue.  Technical glitches also can become issues (e.g., phone lines not working or text message programs misidentifying the proper winner).  These should be anticipated, with explanations of what will happen should any of these occur.  What will happen may differ if the glitch occurs before the contest has been conducted (where you need to decide how to treat those who already entered) or after the prize has been awarded (e.g., as in this week’s cases, where substitute prizes were given).  Anticipate the unexpected.
Continue Reading Two FCC Fines for Contests Where Prizes Not Awarded on a Timely Basis – What Broadcasters Should Watch Out for in Conducting Contests