The FCC proposed a $44,000 fine on a Chicago radio station for running 11 announcements that did not contain a sponsorship identification.  This fine was not for 11 different announcements for different groups, but instead a single announcement run 11 times.  Each airing of the announcement triggered a $4000 fine (which is the amount of the FCC "base fine" for a sponsorship identification violation).  According to the FCC decision, a group called the Workers Independent News ("WIN") bought 2 two-hour programs, one one-hour program, and a number of shorter promotional announcements for those programs. 11 of the promotional announcements did not specifically state that they were sponsored.  Instead, these 11 announcements – each 90 seconds long – consisted of an interviewer, identifying himself as being with Workers Independent News, discussing a local issue with local legislator.  While the announcement did open with a mention of WIN, it didn’t specifically say that they had paid for the spot.  Presumably, the FCC feared that the spot sounded like a program element, perhaps even a news interview (even though it ran in a commercial break), and held that the mere reference to WIN without any explicit statement that the spot was paid for by that group was not enough to convey sponsorship of the ad or to meet the FCC rules requiring sponsorship identification.

The decision here shows how seriously the FCC takes the issue of being able to identify who is trying to influence listeners by providing some form of valuable consideration to a broadcast station in exchange for the broadcast of a message.  This issue is the subject of an FCC rulemaking proceeding, has previously led to fines for other stations (though rarely ones of this magnitude, even where the FCC has found whole programs or portions of programs to have been sponsored – see, for example, the cases we’ve written about here and here dealing with "video news releases"), and has become part of the proposals for the new on-line public file, suggesting that sponsorship identification information be made available for any "pay-for-play" programming in such a file.  The issue has even become important in the online world, with the FTC issuing rules that require similar sponsorship identification even in connection with social media posts for which the author has received consideration (see our summary of the FTC order here).


Continue Reading $44,000 Fine for Radio Station Not Including Sponsorship Identification in Paid Message

One of the questions we commonly get from broadcasters and others around this time of year is whether and/or how they can use the term SUPER BOWL.  Some refer to it as a trademark while others call it a copyright.  Who is right…and how can it be used?  The term SUPER BOWL is a registered trademark owned by the National Football League. We previously discussed this issue in 2009, 2010 and 2011

Actually, the NFL owns at least eight trademark registrations containing the words SUPER BOWL, as well trademark registrations for the terms PRO BOWL and even SUPER SUNDAY.  Aside from these trademark registrations, the NFL also owns the copyright to the telecast of the game itself.  You may have heard that in past years, the NFL tried to stop Super Bowl parties shown on large TV screens.  This was an enforcement of the NFL’s copyright in the game.  Now, the NFL apparently no longer tries to stop Super Bowl parties unless the proprietor charges admission to see the game.  Again, this is a copyright issue.  But what do these rights mean for a broadcaster who wants to run a Super Bowl promotion or an advertiser who wants to run a campaign involving the Big Game?


Continue Reading Is Super Bowl Protected by Trademark or Copyright Law? Try Both.

The FCC this week adopted its rules implementing the CALM Act to address the public perception that commercials are too loud – louder than the programming which they accompany. Congress passed a law last year requiring that the FCC address the issue, and this week’s order adopts these implementing rules which will go into effect on December 13, 2012 (see our articles on the passage of the Act here, and on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in this proceeding here). The rules adopted by the FCC allow television stations and MVPDs (multichannel video programming distributors – cable and satellite TV companies) to meet the requirements of the Act by relying on the A/85 Recommended Practice, a standard adopted by the ATSC (the Advanced Television Standards Committee) setting out a process by which these TV providers can assure that commercials that they insert into program streams are not louder than the programs that they accompany. The rules also allow a safe harbor by which stations and MVPDs can comply with the Act in connection with “embedded commercials”, i.e. commercials that are sent to the station or system by a network or other program supplier.

The specific requirements for compliance with the new rules depend on whether the advertisements that are being broadcast are originated by the station or system, or whether they come embedded from some third-party program provider. For commercial insertions by the station or MVPD, compliance is assumed if they install the equipment required by A/85, use it in connection with their insertions, and maintain and repair it as necessary to keep it in good working order. For embedded commercials, stations can run all the programming through some sort of real time processing to ensure that the audio loudness is uniform. However the Commission was concerned would audio processing would degrade the audio quality of the programming provided by third parties. Thus, the Commission offered an alternative safe harbor with respect to embedded advertising. To comply with the safe harbor, stations and systems would either:

  • Rely on widely available certifications from networks and other program suppliers that they have complied with the standards necessary to assure that the commercials are no louder than the programming in which they are embedded, or
  • The stations and systems will need to perform “spot checks” on programming for which they have obtained no certification. Spot checks are done as follows:
    • Large stations (with over $14 million in annual 2011 revenue based on BIA Media Access Pro information) and very large MVPDs ( those with over 10 million subscribers) needs to annually spot check 100% of their non-certified programming. Large MVPDs (those with between 500,000 and 10 million subscribers) need to spot check 50% of their programming. Small stations and systems are exempt from regular spot check obligations
    • The spot check is a once-a-year obligation, requiring the station or system to do 24 hours of monitoring within a 7 day period, including at least one complete program from each non-certified program supplier, to ensure that the programs comply with the A/85 standards
    • Spot checks will phase out over 2 years as more and more programming is brought into compliance
    • If a spot check reveals an issue, the station or system needs to notify the program provider and the FCC, and do another spot check of the non-compliant programming within 30 days . If the programming continues to be noncompliant, then the programming is outside the safe harbor (meaning that, if a station or system continues to run it, they can be subject to fines)

The Order also set out additional details about what kinds of programming are subject to the rules, the complaint process for those who believe that stations or systems are not complying with their obligations, and waivers for small stations and systems.  These matters are discussed below.


Continue Reading A Summary of the FCC Rules Implementing the CALM Act to Regulate Loud TV Commercials

When the requirement that broadcasters have an antidiscrimination provision in their advertising contracts became effective, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued a Fact Sheet that stated that broadcasters needed to make sure that this provision was not only in their own contracts, but also in that of rep firms and others who sold advertising on behalf

The tenuous legal status of marijuana advertising on broadcast stations just got a little more tenuous as a Federal prosecutor in Southern California has reportedly indicated an intent to prosecute radio and TV stations, as well as newspapers and magazines, that advertise medical marijuana clinics.  As we have written before, advertising such clinics was

For our readers in the television business, there have been recent developments in two proceedings about which we have written recently.  Last week, we wrote about the extension of time to file reply comments on the CALM Act implementation Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, where the FCC is implementing a Congressional act to curb loud commercials

The FCC has granted a short extension for Reply Comments on the implementation of the CALM Act.  The new deadline for Reply Comments is August 1, 2011.  We wrote about the issues in this porceeding here,  The CALM Act ("Commercial Announcement Loudness Mitigation" Act), which must be implemented by the end of this year

Dates for comments and replies on the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the CALM Act, regulating the volume levels of commercials, have now been set.  We provided a detailed summary of that NPRM here.  As set out in that summary, the NPRM asks many questions of broadcasters, cable companies, and other Multichannel Video Programming

In December, the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (“CALM”) Act was adopted by Congress and signed by the President, addressing consumer complaints about television commercials that seem louder than the program content that they accompanied. As we wrote in our summary of the Act when it was adopted, Congress has long received many complaints about loud commercials and decided to act, even though many industry groups were concerned about the ability to design an effective system to deal with the contrasts that sometimes exist between the quiet dialogue that might precede a commercial break and the commercial advertisement itself. Nevertheless, Congress adopted the CALM Act, and instructed the FCC to adopt implementing rules within a year. This past week, the FCC released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, looking to adopt rules to implement the statute for over-the-air television broadcast stations, cable systems, satellite, and other multichannel video programming providers. In its NPRM, the FCC asks many questions trying to clarify the details of CALM Act implementation.

The NPRM raises a broad array of implementation issues, ranging from deciding exactly which broadcast stations and which MVPDs are subject to its terms, to the establishment of safe harbors for technical compliance. As discussed in more detail below, the Commission also asks whether stations and systems can shift the burden for compliance with these rules to program suppliers, such as broadcast and cable networks, and whether contractual means of guaranteeing compliance (such as indemnification provisions in contracts between networks and affiliates) are sufficient to ensure compliance by these program providers. Questions about how MVPDs deal with retransmission of broadcast programs, and who is responsible for noncompliant broadcast programming, are also asked. Finally, the FCC suggests processes for consumer complaints and the grant of waivers to stations and systems that cannot quickly comply with the new rules.


Continue Reading FCC Seeks Comments on Implementation of CALM Act Regulating Loud Commercials on Broadcast and Cable Television

In March, we cautioned broadcasters against the airing of ads for medical marijuana.  Our concerns stemmed not only from a complaint pending at the FCC, but also because, despite the widespread belief that the Federal government no longer cared about medical marijuana use and sale, the Department of Justice had only said that prosecution was no longer a priority, not that it was no longer illegal.  In recent months, our concerns seem more and more justified.  We had worried about some local Federal prosecutor deciding that he or she had time to prosecute offenses, even though DOJ headquarters did not think it to be a priority.  But, based on press reports and DOJ’s own press releases, it looks like there has been at least some rethinking of the policies in Washington, DC as well.  The DOJ appears to be backtracking on medical marijuana, now saying only that it won’t prosecute individuals who use medical marijuana, but that dispensaries, even if set up under the color of state laws, are still illegal under Federal law and subject to Federal prosecution.  Thus, broadcasters, as Federal licensees, need to exercise extreme care in advertising such dispensaries.

In the last few days, NPR has broadcast stories about the Department of Justice writing letters to authorities in Rhode Island and Arizona, in both cases saying that the Federal government still considers the sale of marijuana, even medical marijuana, to be a Federal felony subject to prosecution.  Both states are now reconsidering their laws that would otherwise allow for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries.  The DOJ, on its website, cites a US Attorney in Washington State who has written to the landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries, warning them of the penalties that they may face if they allow these dispensaries to continue to operate, going so far as to warn them that they may face the forfeiture of their property to the government as it is being used to distribute prohibited drugs.  As this letter states, “We intend to use the full extent of our legal remedies to enforce the law.”  This language should serve as a warning to broadcasters of the Federal government’s attitude toward marijuana dispensaries.


Continue Reading More Concerns About The Broadcast of Medical Marijuana Ads