Broadcast Law Blog

Broadcast Law Blog

April Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – First Quarterly Issues Programs Lists in Online Public File for All Radio Stations and Other Important Dates

Posted in AM Radio, Children's Programming and Advertising, EEO Compliance/Diversity, FM Radio, FM Translators and LPFM, General FCC, Low Power Television/Class A TV, Multiple Ownership Rules, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism, Television

April brings with it a milestone – as it is the end of the first quarter since all radio stations have had to have their online public inspection file “live” so that anyone, anywhere, can view a station’s compliance with rules that previously could only be judged by going to the station and reviewing the paper public file. April 10, in particular, is important, as it is when Quarterly Issues Programs Lists, summarizing the most important issues facing the community which the broadcaster serves and the programs that the broadcaster aired to address those issues, must be in the online public file for all full-power radio and TV stations. We wrote about the importance of these sometimes overlooked documents here, as these are the only FCC-mandated documents that reflect how a station has served the needs and interests of its community. We have also noted that, in the past license renewal cycle, missing Quarterly Issues Programs lists were the source of the most fines issued to broadcasters. Now that compliance can be judged at any time by the FCC, their importance is only magnified. So be sure that you get these documents into your online public file by April 10.

EEO Public Inspection File Reports, summarizing a station’s employment record for the prior year, are also to be uploaded to a station’s online public file. For radio and TV stations in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas, these reports need to be completed and included in the public file by April 1 by all stations that are part of employment units with 5 or more full-time (30 hours per week) employees. In addition, radio stations in employment units with 11 or more full-time employees in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and TV stations in Texas with 5 or more full-time employees, also need to file EEO Mid-Term Reports, commonly referred to as FCC Form 397 applications. While the FCC is considering the abolition of the Mid-Term Report (see our article here), the obligation is still in place so, for now, stations must comply. Continue Reading

FCC Announces Effective Date of Requirement for Public File Access to TV Shared Services Agreements

Posted in Multiple Ownership Rules, Television

On Friday, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing that the rules requiring the inclusion in the online public file of TV station “shared services agreements” is now effective after having been approved by the Office of Management and Budget pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act. This obligation for TV stations to put in their public file agreements between independently owned TV stations for shared broadcast services (including shared news operations, accounting staffs and other operational matters) became effective on March 23. It was adopted in the 2016 FCC Ownership Order and the obligation was not changed in last year’s reconsideration of that order (see our summary here). Thus, new shared services agreements should be placed into the public file shortly after being entered into. Agreements existing before the March 23 effective date need to be added to the file within 180 days. As the definition of shared services agreements is very broad, seemingly including pretty much any kind of service other than an on-the-fly, single event-based news cooperation agreements and agreements totally unrelated to broadcast operations (like shared janitorial services), if your TV station shares services of any sort with another station in its market, talk to your attorney about whether that agreement needs to be included in your public file.

FM Translator Auction Scheduled For Mutually Exclusive Applications from First 2017 Cross-Service Translator Window

Posted in AM Radio, Broadcast Auctions, FM Translators and LPFM

It appears that the FCC is attempting to clear its backlog of pending translator applications – and moving quickly to do so. On Friday, it released a Public Notice announcing a new auction beginning on May 15 for the small set of mutually exclusive applications left from last year’s window for the filing of FM translator applications by Class C and D AM stations, and setting the rules and procedures for that auction. While only 26 applications (in 12 groups of mutually exclusive applications – see the list in this Excel file) are involved in the auction, it shows that the FCC is trying to rapidly clear its decks of all remaining translator applications. Already on the FCC’s schedule, as we wrote here, is an auction of mutually exclusive translators left over from its 2003 FM translator window (for the rules adopted for that auction, see the FCC notice here). The FCC has also scheduled the filing of long-form applications for “singleton” applications (ones that are predicted to not cause interference to any other translator application or any existing station) from the window opened late last year for Class A and B AM stations to file for FM translators (see our post here on the opening of the long-form filing window for the translator applications), and long-form applications for applicants who were able to work out mutually exclusive situations in the first window so that they did not need to go to auction (see our post here). Still to be announced for applicants in that Class A and B window is the settlement period for applications that are mutually with other applications. Expect that announcement soon.

Commercial Radio – Remember to Sign RMLC/SESAC Contract By March 26 to Get the Full Benefit of Arbitration Decision

Posted in Broadcast Performance Royalty, Intellectual Property, Music Rights

We wrote last summer about the substantial reductions in SESAC royalties that the Radio Music License Committee was able to achieve for commercial radio stations through a decision in its arbitration proceeding. RMLC recently sent out an email to all commercial stations that had authorized it to act on the stations’ behalf reminding them that, to get the full advantage of the retroactive discounting of the SESAC rates, stations need to sign the SESAC agreement by Monday, March 26. More information about this deadline and a link to the SESAC contract that needs to be signed can be found at the RMLC’s website, here. The arbitration award covers the license period 2016-2018, which is why there will be credits from SESAC for overpayments that stations made over the past two years. Also on the RMLC site is a link to an authorization form for future negotiations with SESAC for those stations that have not previously authorized RMLC to act on their behalf in SESAC matters. Act now to take advantage of these significant savings.

FCC Rules Relaxing AM Proofs of Performance Become Effective

Posted in AM Radio

In September 2017, the FCC adopted new rules making AM proofs of performance easier to conduct for many stations. We summarized the changes here, and wrote about the FCC’s adoption of these changes here. The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing that these rules have completed the review process under the Paperwork Reduction Act, and are now effective. Thus, stations can now take advantage of the simplified proofing options provided under these new rules.

FCC Adopts Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Looking to Simplify Sale of Satellite TV Stations

Posted in Assignments and Transfers, Multiple Ownership Rules, Television

At its open meeting yesterday, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking looking to ease the paperwork involved in the sale of a satellite television station – i.e. a station, usually in a smaller market that is associated (and often rebroadcasts) another station in that market. As we wrote here when we summarized the draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released in anticipation of yesterday’s meeting, the Commission proposed to simplify the sale process by not requiring that a buyer prove that the conditions that initially warranted the operation of the station as a satellite not subject to the multiple ownership rules were still in place. That means that the parties to a proposed sale don’t have to search to see if there is a buyer who is willing to operate the satellite as an independent station, and don’t have to prove that the satellite station could not operate on its own – unless that premise is challenged during the course of the FCC’s review and approval of the proposed sale. Comments on this proposal will be due 30 days after this NPRM is published in the Federal Register, with reply comments due 15 days later.

With April Fools’ Day Coming Up, Plan Your On-Air Pranks with Care – Remember the FCC Hoax Rule

Posted in Emergency Communications, FCC Fines, General FCC, Programming Regulations, Public Interest Obligations/Localism

With April Fools’ Day falling on a Sunday this year, perhaps the potential for on-air pranks is lessened. But, then again, who knows what weekend talent may be planning? So, as we do every year about is time, we need to play our role as attorneys and ruin the fun by repeating our reminder that broadcasters need to be careful with any on-air pranks, jokes or other bits prepared especially for the day.  While a little fun is OK, remember that the FCC does have a rule against on-air hoaxes. While issues under this rule can arise at any time, 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.”  Air a program that fits within this definition and causes a public harm, and expect to be fined by the FCC.

This rule was adopted in the early 1990s after several incidents that were well-publicized in the broadcast industry, including one case where the on-air personalities at a station falsely claimed that they had been taken hostage, and another case where a station broadcast bulletins reporting that a local trash dump had exploded like a volcano and was spewing burning trash.  In both cases, first responders were notified about the non-existent emergencies, actually responded to the notices that listeners called in, and were prevented from responding to real emergencies.  In light of this sort of incident, the FCC adopted its prohibition against broadcast hoaxes.  But, as we’ve reminded broadcasters before, the FCC hoax rule is not the only reason to be wary on April 1.  Continue Reading

Using Copyrighted Content on a Website – Including News Articles and Videos – Secure the Rights!

Posted in Intellectual Property, On Line Media, Website Issues

In recent weeks, I have had several calls from broadcasters asking if it was permissible to copy articles from other news sources and post them on the station website – with attribution to the original source. As I told them, posting content without permission of the copyright holder can lead to big problems. We have written about these issues in connection with the use of photos and video (see, for instance, our articles here, here and here), and recently even using embedded photos from a social media site have been called into question (see our article here). The copying of any substantial part of a news article raises the same issues as posting pictures or video found on the Internet onto your site. Such actions diminish the ability to of the content’s owner to profit from its own content. If someone can read a story on a broadcaster’s website, why would they need to go to the site of the originator of that content – even where attribution to the originating site (and even a link to that site) is given on the broadcaster’s site?

Years ago, there were many websites that would “aggregate” news by taking significant portions of news stories from other sites and make it available to the aggregator’s readers. There was a rash of lawsuits where content owners, including newspapers and others, claimed that aggregators using even a paragraph or two of the original story were infringing on their rights to their content. Content owners had real concerns about this aggregation sites, as a reader can usually get the gist of the story from the introductory paragraphs and, even when the aggregator provided a link to the full story, the readers would be far less likely to go to the full story when they had already been given its substance. Today, to avoid these lawsuits, most such news aggregators provide at most a headline (and sometimes even the headline can be creative enough to pose a copyright risk if run on an aggregator’s site – so just a generic paraphrase of that headline is often used), and at most a very brief description of the story on the originating site – a description that only directs the users of the aggregator site to the originating site and does not use any of the originating story’s language or original reporting, e.g. a statement that “you can find a good story about Virginia’s collapse in the NCAA tournament in this story” or “for more developments on latest in the personnel changes in the Trump Administration, check out this story in the Washington Post.” Using more than this kind of generic referral is a risk, and fair use is no often going to be available as a defense. Continue Reading

FCC Announces Dates for Submitting “Long-Form” Applications by AM Stations that Filed for New FM Translators in Second Translator Window

Posted in AM Radio, Broadcast Auctions, FM Translators and LPFM

The FCC yesterday released a Public Notice announcing a filing window from April 18 through May 9 for “long-form” applications for new translators that were filed in the January 2018 window for Class A and B AM stations to seek new FM translators to rebroadcast their stations. The Public Notice also sets out the procedures for filing in this window. The window is for the filing of a complete Form 349 applications by applicants who were deemed to be “singletons,” i.e. their applications are not predicted to cause interference to any other translator applicant. The list of singletons is here.  The long-form application requires more certifications and technical information than that which was submitted during the initial filing window.

After the long-form application is submitted to the FCC, the application will be published in an FCC public notice of broadcast applications. Interested parties will have 15 days from that publication date to comment or object. If no comments are filed, and no other issues arise, the FCC’s Audio Division is known for its speed in processing translator applications so that grants might be expected for many of the applications within 60 days of the end of the window. Continue Reading

Solve for “X”:  NFL is to Super Bowl® as USOC is to Olympics® as NCAA is to X® (There Is More Than One Correct Answer!) – Trademarks and March Madness

Posted in Advertising Issues, Trademark

It was almost exactly one year ago that we reported that the National Collegiate Athletic Association filed a trademark infringement action in federal court against a company that ran online sports-themed promotions and sweepstakes under the marks “April Madness” and “Final 3.”  The NCAA prevailed because the defendant entered into an agreement not to use the marks, but failed to file an answer to the complaint.  A default judgment was entered.  On February 23, 2018, the NCAA filed a motion requesting an an award of attorneys’ fees against the defendant in the amount of $242,213.55.

The amount of attorneys’ fees incurred in a case that was resolved with relatively little resistance illustrates the level of importance that the NCAA places on taking action against activities that “play off” the NCAA Collegiate Basketball Playoffs.  Clearly, such activities continue to carry great risks.  Accordingly, following is an updated version of last year’s blog post on this subject.

With the NCAA Basketball Tournament about to begin, broadcasters, publishers and other businesses need to be wary about potential claims arising from their use terms and logos associated with the tournament, including March Madness®, The Big Dance®, Final Four® or Elite Eight,® each of which is a federally registered trademark. Continue Reading