The Copyright Royalty Board issued a notice yesterday, here, that summarized its decision on the sound recording performance royalties for 2018-2022 to be paid by Satellite Radio and “Pre-existing Subscription Services” (“PSS”), essentially Music Choice for its music service usually packaged with cable television subscriptions. The terms associated with the new rates, embodied in the new rules adopted by the CRB, are available here. The CRB announcement states that the Sirius XM rates will be 15.5% of revenue, which represents an increase from the 11% they are paying currently. The terms for these rates set out a means by which Sirius XM can reduce the revenue subject to the royalty by directly licensing music or using pre-1972 sound recordings, the percentage of such songs being determined by determining their percentage of play on Sirius XM Internet radio channels that correspond directly to their satellite service.

By contrast, the rates for Music Choice (and any other similar PSS having been established prior to 1998 when the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was adopted that may still be in existence) decreased from 8.5% of revenue to 7.5%, the rate that had been in effect in 2012. Our article here describes the decision in 2012 setting the current royalty, and the article here summarizes the Court of Appeals decision upholding the 2012 CRB determination.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board News – Sirius XM Rates Going Up, Some Cable Radio Rates Going Down, and Webcasting Rate Appeal to Be Argued in February

The Songwriter’s Equity Act has once again been introduced in Congress (see our article about that Act when it was introduced in the last Congress). It proposes to make changes in provisions of the Copyright Act governing the way that songwriters are paid for the use of their musical compositions – with the obvious intent of raising the songwriters’ compensation. This legislative proposal is one reflection of the complaints by songwriters that they are not sufficiently compensated for the use of their music. It is interesting that this bill was introduced during the same week that ASCAP announced its first year of billion dollar collection for songwriter’s public performance royalties, and at the same time that the Senate explores more comprehensive changes to the antitrust consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI through a hearing held last week, with the Department of Justice review of these decrees expected in the not too distant future (see our article here).

The Act makes seemingly small changes in legislation, but those changes could have a significant impact on how rates paid to songwriters are computed. The first change proposed is to allow the rates set for the public performance of sound recordings (those royalties that digital music services pay to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings – the actual recordings of songs as opposed to the performance of musical compositions for which ASCAP, BMI and SESAC pay songwriters) to be used as evidence by the judges setting rates for the public performance of musical compositions. That has been prohibited under current law. It is interesting to note that, under Copyright Royalty Board precedent, the Copyright Royalty Judges have in the past determined that the rates paid by music services for the public performance of musical compositions are not a precedent for the public performance of sound recordings, as they are different rights that are not necessarily of the same value. Yet this legislation seems to assume that the royalties for sound recordings are in fact instructive as to what those rates should be for public performances. While seemingly acknowledging the relevance, the legislation does not allow the reverse – stating that the legislation should not be seen as having any effect on the precedent already established by the CRB for the rates for the public performance of sound recordings, so that the rates for sound recordings should not be affected by this legislation.
Continue Reading Songwriter’s Equity Act Reintroduced – What Does It Propose?

The Copyright Office this past week released its Report following its study of music licensing in the US; a comprehensive report addressing a number of very controversial issues concerning music rights and royalties.  Whether its release during the week of the Grammy Awards was a coincidence or not, the report itself, which takes positions on many issues, is sure to initiate lots of discussion and controversy of its own.  The report was issued after two rounds of comments (the questions that were asked in each request for comments are detailed in our stories here and here) and three roundtables held in three different cities where representatives of music companies provided ideas on the questions asked (I participated in the Nashville session).  As detailed below, the report addresses some of the hot button issues in the music royalty space including the broadcast performance royalty, publisher withdrawals from ASCAP and BMI (see our article here), and pre-1972 sound recordings.

Before getting into the details of the proposals, it is important to note that the Copyright Office, unlike many other government agencies, does not itself make substantive rules.  Instead, it merely makes recommendations.  For any of the substantive proposals that it suggests in the Report to become law, Congress must act – which is never easy.  In the Copyright world, it is particularly difficult, as the rules and industry practices are so complex and often obscure, and where any change can have a very dramatic effect on some industry player or another.  Often, a simple change in the rules can take money from someone’s pocket and deposit into someone else’s.  Moreover, copyright is not an area where there are clear partisan divides.  Oftentimes, it matters more where a Congressman’s home district is than his or her party affiliation in their leanings on copyright matters.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Issues its Report on Music Licensing – Issues Include Broadcast Performance Royalties, Publisher Withdrawals from ASCAP and BMI, and Pre-1972 Sound Recordings

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board asked for comments on a proposed settlement agreement between Sirius XM and SoundExchange, and some articles about that announcement have not been entirely clear about what the deal covers.  It has nothing to do with webcasting royalties for 2016-2020, which are still being litigated (see our article here about the proposals of the parties in that case).  Nor does it have to do with the royalties payable for Sirius’ primary satellite radio service, which were just upheld by the Court of Appeals (see our article here).  Instead, these royalties have to do with a very narrow part of Sirius’ business – providing music channels packaged and sold to consumers along with video services like cable and satellite TV.

Some who closely follow these issues (and the coverage of CRB issues on this blog) may think that the rates for these services were set at the same time as the Sirius rates for their satellite music service, as the CRB at that time set the rates that were applicable to Music Choice, which also offers a music service bundled with cable or satellite video programming (see our articles on the recent decision on the appeal of the rates, and the article on the CRB decision itself here).  Even though Music Choice offers pretty much the same service, their rates are different – as Music Choice was classified as a “preexisting subscription service” in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, while the service that Sirius provides is classified as a “new subscription service” paying at a different royalty rate set by the CRB using a different royalty standard.  How did this happen?
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Announces Settlement between Sirius and SoundExchange for New Subscription Services Packaged with Cable and Satellite Video – How Different Royalty Standards Result in Different Royalty Rates

A decision by the US Court of Appeals on the appeal of the Copyright Royalty Board decision as to the Sirius XM and Music Choice royalties for the public performance of sound recordings is one of the many year-end decisions important to broadcasters and digital media companies that seems to be flooding out from Courts and agencies in DC and elsewhere. The Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of SoundExchange, which was arguing that the royalties for both services should have been set higher by the CRB, and the Court also rejected the appeal of Music Choice, which argued that the royalties that were set by the CRB should have been lower.  We wrote about the CRB’s decision, here, when it was initially released about 2 years ago.

The proceeding involved the Preexisting Subscription Services (“PSS”) and the Preexisting Satellite Digital Audio Services (“SDARS”), services that were singled out when Congress adopted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998 by applying a different standard to those services for use by the CRB in determining the amount of sound recording performance royalties.  Instead of using the “willing buyer, willing seller” standard that applies to webcasters and any other digital music service that was not in existence in 1998, these services are evaluated under the 801(b) standard of the Copyright Act, which looks at a variety of factors including the market rate expressed by the willing buyer willing seller standard, but also at the relative financial contributions of the parties to bringing the music to the public, and the effect of royalty changes on the stability of the industries involved (see our articles here, here and here about the differences between these standards)  Using this 801(b) standard, most observers believe that royalties have been set at rates lower than have prevailed in the cases involving services subject the willing buyer willing seller standard.
Continue Reading Court of Appeals Upholds Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Sirius XM and Music Choice Royalties

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week finished its second hearing on music licensing (written witness statements and a link to the webcast can be found here).  Congressional hearings usually are not in-depth proceedings looking to establish detailed facts as done in a hearing in a court proceeding.  Instead, they are formalized proceedings where parties get to make their canned statements setting out positions on issues.  Congressional representatives themselves make statements setting out their positions on the issues, and ask pointed questions to selected witnesses to reinforce those positions.  Minds are rarely changed, and the truly undecided are rarely illuminated on the issues.  But the hearings do serve to set out the issues that are going to be considered by the Committee in ultimately crafting legislation.  And last week’s hearing did just that – highlighting the issues likely to be considered in legislation promised by the Committee Chair, Representative Goodlatte, who promised an omnibus bill on music licensing, dubbed the “Music Bus,” to address the many issues on the table.

Note that any bill that is ultimately introduced will address many seemingly minor issues – details of process and procedure that don’t make the headlines.  But the big issues are the ones that will cause the most industry argument before the lawyers work out the details.  It’s also important to note that it is very late in the legislative calendar right now, with the Senate not putting the same emphasis on copyright issues as it the House.  With elections coming up in the Fall, and scheduled upcoming summer recess, Congress has much must-pass legislation that will fill up their legislative days before the next Congress is sworn in in January.  The start of a new Congress means that all legislation will have a fresh start.  Thus, any Omnibus bill that is introduced this year will most likely not become law, but instead will set the agenda for discussions for next year in the new Congress.  Certainly, there may be more limited bills that sponsors may try to get stuck on other legislation that must move before the end of the Congressional session, so interested parties will remain vigilant during the final days of this session of Congress.  But what are the issues that are on the table for inclusion in any Music Bus?
Continue Reading The Summer of Copyright, Part 2 – The House Judiciary Committee Plans Omnibus Music Licensing Bill – The “Music Bus”

In discussing music royalties, the controversy that usually makes the news is the dispute between music services and copyright holders – with services arguing that the royalties are too high and rightsholders contending that they are underpaid. The introduction of the Songwriters Equity Act in Congress earlier this year seems to point toward a new area of dispute – one between the various rightsholders themselves.  This issue was one that was much discussed on a panel that I moderated last week at the RAIN Summit West (audio of that panel is available here).  What is this conflict?

The Songwriters Equity Act, while not explicit in identifying the controversy, does point to the dispute. As we have written many times before, in any piece of recorded music, there are two copyrights – the sound recording copyright (also known as the “master recording,” the recording of a particular song by a particular artist, rights usually held by the record label), and the right to the musical work (or “musical composition,” the words and music to a song, usually held by a publishing company).  The proposed legislation suggests that the amount of the royalties for the public performance of sound recordings can be taken into account in setting the royalties that are payable to songwriters for the public performance of the songs that they have written.  This would amend Section 114(i) of the Copyright Act, which currently prohibits the consideration of the sound recording royalty in determining the rates to be paid for the public performance of musical works.  The proposed legislation would also substitute the “willing buyer, willing seller” standard for the 801(b) standard in setting rates under Section 115 of the Copyright Act, the mechanical royalty (see our discussion of the difference between these standards, here).  While this does not sound like a big deal, it may have a significant impact.
Continue Reading Raising the Royalties for Musical Works? A Discussion of the Potential Dispute between Music Rights Holders over the Value of Their Rights

With the National Association of Broadcasters big convention coming up next week in Las Vegas, this week we’ll look at a couple of the issues that will likely be discussed when the industry gathers for its annual reunion. On Sunday, before most of the NAB Show begins, the Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN) will be holding its RAIN Summit West, where I will be moderating a panel called The Song Plays On – which will focus on the music royalties paid by Internet Radio and other digital music services. We’ll not focus on what the current royalties are, but instead to try to explore what they could be in the future. This is really one of the most difficult issues in the industry, as the two sides (and really there are many more than two sides to this issue) come at the issue from far different perspectives. We will try to bridge those differences and explore where there might be common ground for music users and copyright holders to come together to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions to this thorny issue.

The Internet Radio Fairness Act introduced in Congress last year brought this issue into sharp focus. That Act sought to bring about a number of reforms in the way that the Copyright Royalty Board sets various music royalties – particularly the rates that apply to Internet radio stations. We wrote about the provisions of the bill dealing with Internet radio royalties soon after the bill was introduced. After that article, there was a Congressional hearing on the issue, and lots of debate before the bill died at the end of the year as the session of Congress expired. This year, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee has promised a number of hearings on all aspects of music and audio copyright issues, though none have yet been scheduled. But the debate about IRFA last year illustrated the divide between the various sides in the music royalty debate. 


Continue Reading Why the Differing Perceptions of the Value of Music by Digital Music Services and Copyright Holders Make Royalty Decisions So Hard

The full decision of the Copyright Royalty Board setting the royalty rates to be paid to SoundExchange by Sirius XM and Music Choice from 2013 through 2017 has now been released.  We wrote about the initial release of the summary of the decision before Christmas.  The final decision is interesting in many respects. First, it is the first decision to be released since two of the original three Copyright Royalty Judges left the bench. The decision, as released was actually two decisions – one signed by the new Chief Judge and an acting judge who filled in for Judge Wisniewski, the Board’s economic expert, when he had to retire for health reasons. The second decision, reaching the same result but based on different reasoning, was signed by the Board’s lone holdover, Judge Roberts, a long-time fixture at the Copyright Office before joining the Board. In addition, the decision seems to reject some premises that had long been used to justify royalty rates in other proceedings – and thus may give some insights on approaches to be used in the webcasting royalty proceeding that will begin in 2014 and conclude in 2015. The majority decision also, for the first time, gives at least some weight to direct licensing deals for the public performance of sound recordings by a noninteractive service. Finally, the decision provides explicitly for carve-outs from the established royalties for music on which no royalties need to be paid, including music that is directly licensed, and for pre-1972 sound recordings.

Before looking at the decision, it needs to be noted that these royalties are theoretically decided not just for Sirius XM and for Music Choice, but also for other services that fit into their class of service as defined by Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act. Thus, the Music Choice decision applied theoretically to all "Preexisting Subscription Services" (or a "PSS") and the Sirius XM decision to all "preexisting satellite digital audio services" (or, as used in the decision, "SDARS" – satellite digital audio services). The "pre-existing language means that these services were either in existence or authorized by the FCC (for the SDARS services) at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998.  Of course, since 1998, all of Music Choices then-existing competitors in the cable audio business have gone out of business with one exception, and the second SDARS service – XM Radio – has merged with Sirius. So, effectively, these rates apply only to very few companies.


Continue Reading Full Text of Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Sirius XM and Music Choice Royalties Released – The Basics of the Decision

The Copyright Royalty Board has announced the royalties that will be paid for the public performance of sound recordings by Sirius XM for the period 2013-2017. The decision also covers the "Preexisting Subscription Services", i.e. Music Choice in connection with its cable radio service delivered with listener’s cable television packages. The full text of the decision is not released yet, as the parties have an opportunity to request that certain portions be redacted to protect private business and competitive information. The parties can request such redactions through December 19, so the decision may be Christmas reading for many. However, the Board did announce the rates as follows:

Section 112 Rates: The Judges adopted the Parties’ Stipulation regarding the rates and terms for the Section 112 rates, which will require a minimum fee advance payment of $100,000 per year, with royalties accruing during the year recoupable against the advance. The parties agreed that the value of the royalties allocated to the Section 112 license holders is 5% of the total royalty obligation, with the remaining 95% going to the Section 114 license holders.

Section 114 Rates: The Judges determined that the appropriate Section 114(f)(1) rates for Preexisting Subscription Services for 2013-2017 are 8% of Gross Revenues for 2013 and 8.5% for 2014 through 2017.

The Judges determined that the appropriate Section 114(f)(1) rates for Preexisting Satellite Digital Audio Radio Services for 2013-2017 are 9% of Gross Revenues for 2013, 9.5% for 2014, 10.0% for 2015, 10.5% for 2016 and 11.0% for 2017.

Both decisions represent modest, incremental raises in the current rates (see the description of the last CRB decisions on satellite radio rates here, and on cable radio here).  These decisions are made under the 801(b) factors, from Section 801(b) of the Copyright Act, that Internet radio currently is seeking, through the Internet Radio Fairness Act ("IRFA"), to have applied to the decisions as to the royalties paid by webcasters (see our summary here). We will not know how the standard was applied in reaching the decision to raise rates, and what guidance this decision provides for webcasters and their rates, until the full decision is released (see our summary of the arguments of the parties in this case, here).


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Releases New Rates for Sirius XM and Cable Radio – They are Going Up, Full Reasoning of the Decision to Come