The House of Representatives, after a fairly contentious debate, today passed the Bill extending the termination date for analog service by full-power TV stations, extending the Digital Television deadline until June 12. By that date, all full-power stations will need to complete the transition to digital so that, on June 13, there will be no
Dates Set for Oral Arguments on Webcasting and Satellite Radio Appeals Of Copyright Royalty Board Decisions
The oral argument on the Webcasting appeal of the March 2007 Copyright Royalty Board decision setting Internet radio sound recording royalty rates for 2006-2010 has now been set for March 19. So, if no settlement under the Webcaster Settlement Act (about which we wrote here) is reached before the February 15 deadline set out…
FCC Fines for Noncommercial Stations Having Underwriting Announcements That Were Too Commercial – Even Where the Station Received No Money
Last week, the FCC issued several fines to noncommercial broadcasters who had underwriting announcements that sounded too commercial. In these decisions, the Commission found that the stations had broadcast promotional announcements for commercial businesses – and those announcements did not conform to the FCC’s rules requiring that announcements acknowledging contributions to noncommercial stations cannot contain qualitative claims about the sponsor, nor can they contain "calls to action" suggesting that listeners patronize the sponsor. These cases also raised an interesting issue in that the promotional announcements that exceeded FCC limits were not in programming produced by the station, but instead in programs produced by outside parties who received the compensation that led to the announcement. The FCC found that there was liability for the spots that were too promotional even though the station itself had received no compensation for the airing of that spot.
The rules for underwriting announcements on noncommercial stations (including Low Power FM stations) limit these announcements to ones that identify sponsors, but do not overtly promote their businesses. Underwriting announcements can identify the sponsor, say what the business of the sponsor is, and give a location (seemingly including a website address). But the announcements cannot do anything that would specifically encourage patronage of the sponsor’s business. They cannot contain a "call to action" (e.g. they cannot say "visit Joe’s hardware on Main Street" or "Call Mary’s Insurance Company today"). They cannot contain any qualitative statements about the sponsors products or services (e.g. they cannot say "delicious food", "the best service", or "a friendly and knowledgeable staff" ). The underwriting announcements cannot contain price information about products sold by a sponsor. In one of the cases decided this week, the Commission also stated that the announcements cannot be too long, as that in and of itself makes the spot seem overly promotional and was more than was necessary to identify the sponsor and the business that the sponsor was in. The spot that was criticized was approximately 60 seconds in length. …
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SoundExchange and CPB Reach a Settlement on Webcasting Royalties – More Deals to Come?
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and SoundExchange have reached an agreement on the Internet radio royalty rates applicable to stations funded by CPB. While the actual agreement has not yet been made public, a summary has been released. The deal will cover 450 public radio webcasters including CPB supported stations, NPR, NPR members, National Federation of Community Broadcasters members, American Public Media, the Public Radio Exchange, and Public Radio International stations. All are covered by a flat fee payment of $1.85 million – apparently covering the full 5 years of the current royalty period, 2006-2010. This deal is permitted as a result of the Webcaster Settlement Act (about which we wrote here), and will substitute for the rates decided by the Copyright Royalty Board back in 2007.
The deal also requires that NPR drop its appeal of the CRB’s 2007 decision which is currently pending before the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC (see summary here and here), though that appeal will continue on issues raised by the other parties to the case unless they, too, reach a settlement. CPB is also required to report to SoundExchange on the music used by its members. In some reports, the deal is described as being based on "consumption" of music, and implies that, if music use by covered stations increases, then the royalties will increase. It is not clear if this increase means that there will be an adjustment to the one time payment made by CPB, or if the increase will simply lead to adjustments in future royalty periods. …
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Here We Go Again – Copyright Royalty Board Announces Date for Filing to Particpate in Proceeding to Set Webcasting Royalties for 2011-2015
The Copyright Royalty Board today published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the start of its next proceeding to set the royalties to be paid by Internet radio operators for the performance rights to use "sound recordings" (a particular recording of a song as performed by a particular performer) pursuant to the statutory royalty. As we’ve written extensively on this blog, the statutory royalty allows an Internet radio station to use any publicly released recording of a song without the permission of the copyright owner (usually the record company) or the artist who is recorded, as long as the station’s owner pays the royalty – currently collected by SoundExchange. In 2007, the Copyright Royalty Board set the royalties for 2006-2010, a decision which prompted much controversy and is still under appeal. In the Notice released today, the CRB set February 4 as the deadline for filing a Petition to Participate in the proceeding to set the royalties for the next 5 year period.
The 2006-2010 royalties are currently the subject of negotiations as the parties to the last proceeding attempt to come to a voluntary settlement to set royalties that are different than those established by the CRB decision. The Webcasting Settlement Act (which we summarized here) gives webcasters until February 15 to reach an agreement as to rates that would become an alternative to the rates that the CRB established. The Act also permits parties to reach deals that are available not only for the 2006-2010 period, but also allows the deals to cover the period from 2011-2016. Thus, theoretically, webcasters could all reach agreements with SoundExchange to establish rates that cover the next royalty period, obviating the need for the proceeding of which the CRB just gave notice. But, as is so often the case, those settlements may not be reached (if they are) until the last minute – so parties may need to file their Petitions to Participate before they know whether a settlement has been achieved.…
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Webcaster Settlement Act – What Does It Mean?
Both the House and the Senate have now approved the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, which will become law when it is signed by the President. Just what does this bill do? It does not announce a settlement of the contentious Internet Radio royalty dispute, about which we have extensively written here. It does not change the standard for judging Internet radio royalties, as had been proposed in the Internet Radio Equality Act, introduced last year and now seemingly dead in the waning days of this Congress, and in the Perform Act, about which we wrote here (the IREA and the Perform Act proposed different standards – the first more favorable to webcasters and the second more favorable to SoundExchange). These issues will seemingly be left to be disputed in a future Congress. Instead, the Webcaster Settlement Act seems to only adopt a simplified process for the approval of settlements that may be reached by the parties on or before February 15, 2009 – a settlement process that had been previously used in the Small Webcaster Settlement Act (the language of which this bill amends).
What is the significance of these new settlement processes? Under current law, any settlement between any group of webcasters and SoundExchange could only be binding on the entire universe of sound recording copyright holders if that settlement was approved by the Copyright Royalty Board. If an agreement is not binding on all copyright holders, then the reason for the statutory royalty – being able to pay one entity and get access to all the music in the world – would not be met. The current procedures for approving settlements seem to contemplate such settlements only before a decision on royalties is reached by the CRB. While some have speculated that the Court of Appeals that is currently considering the CRB appeal could remand the case to the CRB to effectuate a settlement and force the CRB to address it, that is by no means certain. For instance, the large webcasters, through their organization DiMA, reached a settlement with SoundExchange to cap minimum fees at $50,000 per webcaster. In their briefs filed with the Court of Appeals, both DiMA and SoundExchange have asked the Court to remand that aspect of the case to the CRB for adoption – yet that request has been opposed by the Department of Justice acting on behalf of the CRB. Thus, voluntary settlements may not be easy to obtain.…
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Will the FCC Back off on its TV Enhanced Disclosure Requirements?
Broadcasting and Cable magazine today reported that the FCC is looking to back off some of the requirements for the "enhanced disclosure" of television broadcaster’s public interest programming (see our summary of the new requirements of FCC Form 355, here). B&C reports that the FCC may lessen or at least better explain…
Senate Hearing: The Search for Compromise on Music Performance Royalties – Part One: The Issue of Standards
Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the sound recording performance royalty, titling the hearing "Music and Radio in the 21st Century: Assuring Fair Rates and Rules Across Platforms" (a webcast of which can be accessed here). While the hearing was ostensibly to search for a way to come up with a uniform system of determining music royalties across various digital media platforms (though the broadcast analog performance royalty snuck into the discussion from time to time), in reality it appeared to be two things – a search for compromise and a demonstration of the dramatically different perspectives from which the recording industry and the digital radio industry approach the topic. While one might assume that the dramatically different approaches would mean that no compromise was possible, there were a few areas of commonality that perhaps reflect the potential that, at some point, common ground can be found. We will review the hearing’s discussions in multiple parts – today dealing with the issue of the standard to be used in assessing royalties for the public performance of sound recordings and, in a subsequent post, we will summarize the differing world views of the participants and why the dramatically different ways that they see the business make for difficulty in compromise.
But first, a summary of the issues that were to be discussed at the hearing. Essentially, the hearing was to discuss two bills addressing different aspects of the royalty issues. Senator Feinstein of California, who chaired the hearing, was looking for any common ground that might exist that would allow for movement on the Perform Act that she has introduced. That act would attempt to do two things – (1) assure that a common standard was used to assess sound recording royalties in all digital media and (2) adopt standards that would require digital services to use some form of security or encryption that would make "stream ripping" more difficult. The first goal of her bill, looking for a common standard, was an attempt to avoid some of the problems that have been evident in the royalty proceedings that have thus far been held before the Copyright Royalty Board which have resulted in dramatically different royalties – ranging from 6 to 8% of revenue for satellite radio companies and a similar royalty for digital cable music services (see our posts on those rates here and here) derived under an "801(b) standard" (after section 801b of the Copyright Act) , and the royalty for Internet radio that has been estimated to range between 75% and 300% of gross revenues of those services, derived from a "willing buyer, willing seller" royalty standard. The Perform Act would subject all to a single standard – and it currently proposes a new standard – "fair market value."…
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Child Online Protection Act Invalidated by Third Circuit
Congress years ago tried to regulate indecency on the Internet through the Child Online Protection Act, through regulation of content that was harmful to minors. Because of the sweeping nature of the restrictions, the Courts have repeatedly invalidated the law. We wrote in March 2007 about a Federal District Court decision invalidating the…
OMB Throws Out Leased Access Rules as Violation of Paperwork Reduction Act – Will TV Enhanced Disclosure Be Next?
Last week, the Office of Management and Budget determined that the FCC’s new rules on Leased Access to cable channels (see our bulletin describing those rules) violated the Paperwork Reduction Act. This means that the new rules, which would have significantly lowered the cost for parties who wanted to lease cable channels to provide their own programming, will be sent back to the FCC for further consideration. These rules are also on appeal to the Courts, which had stayed the effectiveness of the rules while the appeal is being considered, which is usually a good indication that the Court had issues with the rules as well. The OMB action has the effect of returning the rules back to the FCC to be considered anew in light of the OMB findings. Our firm has prepared a memo detailing the decision, here. Given the OMB decision that these rules imposed too great a burden on cable systems, one wonders if this decision portends a similar result when the OMB reviews the FCC’s rules on Enhanced Disclosure and an on-line public inspection file – rules that would impose a significant burden on television broadcasters (about which we wrote here).
The OMB decision on the leased access rules highlighted some of the perceived shortcomings of the FCC decision, including that the FCC had not shown that they had taken steps to minimize the burden on companies who would have to hire staff to comply with the new rules, and they had not provided reasons why reduced timeframes for responses to requests for leased access were necessary. Looking at these standards, one would have to think that much of the same reasoning would apply to the FCC’s Enhanced Disclosure requirements for TV stations as set out in the new Form 355. The completion of the Form would clearly require the hiring of new staff. We’ve also questioned whether the Commission has given any justification for the increased paperwork requirements, as the information itself has no regulatory purpose as the FCC has not adopted any quantitative standards for public interest programming. With no purpose and increased costs, how could the OMB treat the enhanced disclosure requirements differently than it did the leased access requirements?…
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