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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 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.

  • President Joe Biden named Jessica Rosenworcel as Acting Chair of the FCC, where she will set the agenda for the

On Tuesday, as has been covered in most of the broadcast trade press, the US Supreme Court held its oral argument in the Prometheus case.  In this case, the FCC and a number of media companies seek to overturn the Third Circuit’s decision that threw out the FCC’s 2017 media ownership rule changes.  As we wrote here, these changes included the abolition of the newspaper-broadcast and radio-TV cross-ownership rules, the abolition of the “rule of eight” that requires that there be eight independent TV owners in a market to allow the common ownership or control of two TV stations in a market, the allowance in some cases of the common ownership of two of the top 4 TV stations in a market, and the determination that TV joint sales agreements are not attributable.  When the Third Circuit overturned the 2017 decision, those changes were undone (see our article here).  In addition, the Third Circuit’s basis for its decision was that the FCC had done an inadequate job assessing the effect that relaxations in the media ownership rules might have had on minority ownership in the past and how diversity of ownership would likely be affected by the 2017 changes (looking for historical information the FCC claimed not to have).  As a result, all other changes in the FCC’s media ownership rules have been put on hold, including proposed changes to relax the radio ownership rules because if the Third Circuit decision is upheld, any further changes in the local ownership rules have to make that same showing.

The argument on Tuesday went like so many court arguments – there were lots of questions directed by the Justices to all parties in the case.  While there were some questions about whether the FCC had adequately justified its 2017 decision, there seemed to be many questions focused not on whether to overturn the Third Circuit decision, but instead on whether to overturn it on narrow grounds (that the FCC had justified the need for reform of its ownership rules despite any impact it might have on minority ownership and the courts should defer to the opinion of the expert agency), or whether to come out with a more sweeping ruling that says that the statute calling for Quadrennial Reviews of the FCC’s ownership rules makes competition issues the guiding factor in assessing whether or not to relax existing ownership rules, and that ownership diversity is at most a collateral or secondary consideration.  If the Court in fact decides to overturn the Third Circuit, the basis of the decision could impact future ownership proceedings.  What is next for those proceedings?
Continue Reading The Supreme Court Argument on Media Ownership – What’s Next?

In 2019, the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice began a review of the court-administered antitrust consent decrees that have bound ASCAP and BMI since the 1940s.  We wrote about the issues in their review here.  The formal review of these decrees began as part of the DOJ’s broader review of its antitrust consent decrees covering many different industries.  The DOJ received almost a thousand comments on the questions that it asked about the ASCAP and BMI decrees.  It also held public roundtables as well as private discussions with interested parties during its review.  Last week, Makan Delrahim, the outgoing head of the Antitrust Division, presented remarks at a Vanderbilt Law School virtual event where he said that the review would be ending without any proposals for reform.  While the statement notes some of the reforms that were sought by the music industry, it also notes that music users around the country rely on the systems established under the decrees and judge them to be working well.  Mr. Delrahim’s statement says that because of the complexity of the issues and the interruptions caused by the pandemic, no reforms would be offered at this time, but it urged the DOJ to continue to review these decrees on a regular basis – at least once every five years.

This action is significant for broadcasters and other music users as it leaves in place these consent decrees that are the basis on which so many businesses use music in their day-to-day operations.  Given the volume of music they have under license, most businesses do not have an alternative to using the blanket licenses offered by these organizations.  The only alternative would be to license the music themselves which, due to the complexity of the copyright laws and the lack of transparency in music ownership, would be exceedingly difficult for a business where music is but a secondary component to their operations.  Together, ASCAP and BMI provide a license to broadcasters and other music users (including any business that performs music to the public, such as bars and restaurants, retail stores, digital music services, concert venues, hotels and so many other locations).
Continue Reading DOJ Ends its Review of ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees – For Now…What Does it Mean?

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.  We also note an upcoming event to which broadcasters will want to pay attention.

  • After a multi-year review of the

After this year’s contentious elections, it is with reluctance that we even broach the subject – but broadcasters and cable companies need to be aware that in many jurisdictions there are elections this November. While most broadcast stations don’t think about the FCC’s political broadcasting rules in odd numbered years, they should – particularly in connection with state and local political offices.  There are elections for governor in November in Virginia and New Jersey, and all sorts of state and local elections in different parts of the country.  These include some mayoral races in major US cities.  Some of these local elections don’t even occur in November – and there are even a few that are taking place as early as next month. As we have written 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 has to sell. 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 Reminder – 2021 Will Include Some Off-Year Elections for State and Local Office – and FCC Political Broadcasting Rules Do Apply

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.  Also, we include a quick look at some important dates in the future.

  • The Enforcement Bureau advised broadcasters (and other

The Copyright Royalty Board today published a Federal Register notice announcing that SoundExchange was auditing a number of broadcasters and other webcasters to assess their compliance with the statutory music licenses provided by Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act for the public performance of sound recordings and ephemeral copies made in the digital transmission process by commercial webcasters. A separate notice to audit the company Music Choice, which also provides a digital music service usually delivered with cable or satellite television services, was also issued to audit their compliance both on webcasting and on their subscription music service which is subject to separate royalty rules set out in a different part of the same section of the Copyright Act and set through a different Copyright Royalty Board proceeding. A third audit notice has gone out to a company called Rockbot, a Business Establishment Service whose royalties are exclusively paid under Section 112 of the statute (see our article here about the CRB-set royalties for these services that provide music played in various food and retail establishments and other businesses).

SoundExchange may conduct an audit of any licensee operating under the statutory licenses for which it collects royalties.  Such audits cover the prior three calendar years in order to verify that the correct royalty payments have been made. The decision to audit a company is not necessarily any indication that SoundExchange considers something amiss with that company’s royalty payments – instead they audit a cross-section of services each year (see our past articles about audits covering the spectrum of digital music companies audited by SoundExchange here, herehere and here).  Audits are conducted by outside accounting firms who, after they review the books and records of the company being audited, issue a report to SoundExchange about their findings.  The company being audited has the right to review the report before it is issued and suggest corrections or identify errors.  The reports are then provided to SoundExchange and, if they show an underpayment, it can collect any unpaid royalties, with interest.  While, by statute, the notice of the royalty must be published in the Federal Register, the results of the audit and any subsequent resolution usually are not made public.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Announces SoundExchange Audits of Royalty Payments for Webcasters (Including Broadcast Simulcasts) and Other Digital Music Services

A Notice of Inquiry from the Copyright Office was published today in the Federal Register, announcing the initiation of an inquiry into the effects of the 2019 changes in the statutory license under Section 119 of the Copyright Act for satellite television providers to retransmit local television stations.  Pursuant to that license, a satellite carrier can retransmit local television stations into their own markets without having to negotiate with each copyright holder in the programming carried by local stations.  Instead, the satellite carrier pays a license fee set by the statute and the proceeds of that license are redistributed through proceedings held by the Copyright Royalty Board to the copyright holders.  As part of that license, satellite carriers can import signals of distant network television stations into a market in certain circumstances – circumstances that were greatly limited by the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act (the “STCPPA”) in 2019.  As part of that statute, Congress instructed the Copyright Office to conduct this study to review the impact of the 2019 changes.

The 2019 changes eliminated the ability of satellite carriers to import distant network signals to households in a market where:

  • The households could not receive a local over-the-air signal via an antenna;
  • The household received a waiver from a local network affiliate to receive a distant signal;
  • “Grandfathered” households that received distant signals on or before October 31, 1999; and
  • Households eligible for a statutory exemption related to receiving “C-Band” satellite signals.

These exceptions were problematic to broadcasters as they introduced a distant network affiliate into a television market, encouraging viewers to watch that distant station at the expense of the local affiliate.  Congress was concerned that these situations encouraged viewers to watch distant news rather than the local news and information provided by in-market stations.  Many of these provisions were also hard to implement and enforce.  For instance, the question of whether a household could receive an over-the-air signal could often be a contentious question.  Waivers also were problematic, as a local station could feel pressure to give a waiver to a local resident to avoid bad will within the community.  Thus, in 2019, all of these exceptions were abolished.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Begins Review of Changes in Satellite Television Statutory License for Carriage of Local Television Stations

Here we are, in a new and hopefully more “normal” year – wondering what will be ahead.  Each year, at about this time, we put together a look at the regulatory dates ahead for broadcasters – or at least the primary ones that we already know.  This year is no different – and we offer for your review our Broadcaster’s Regulatory Calendar for 2021.  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 license renewalsEEO Public Inspection File ReportsQuarterly Issues Programs listschildren’s television obligations, annual fee obligations and much more.  This year, for LPTV and TV translator operators, there are also dates associated with this summer’s deadline for all such stations to be operating digitally (see our article here).

While this likely will not be a big political advertising year like 2020, there will be some state and local races – so we note the start of the Lowest Unit Charge window for this year’s November election – relevant in states like New Jersey and Virginia where there are races for governor and state legislature, and to the many locations across the country that will have mayor’s races and other state and local political contests.  Look for local information about the dates for any primary elections for these elections – as those primaries have their own LUC windows for the 45 days preceding the primary.  See our article here on how the other political broadcasting rules apply to state and local elections.
Continue Reading A Broadcaster’s 2021 Regulatory Calendar – Looking at Some of the Important Dates for the Year Ahead