advertising regulation

In recent days we have seen political action committees (PACs) claiming they are "prohibited" from running political ads in primary states due to "new rules" regarding "electioneering communications."  As explained below, these claims are incorrect.  What they are really doing is trying to avoid the need to reveal the identity of their contributors, following a US District Court decision in March.

Under Federal Election law, an "electioneering communication" is a broadcast, cable or satellite communication that refers to a clearly identified candidate for federal office within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of an election, targeted to 50,000 or more people in the state or district the candidate seeks to represent. For President and Vice Presidential candidates, an "electioneering communication" is one that can be received by 50,000 or more people within 30 days of a state primary or the nominating convention.

By federal statute, sponsors of "electioneering communications" must disclose the names and addresses of each donor who contributed $1000 or more to the sponsoring organization. This is is the provision that led to the US District Court decision at issue.


Continue Reading Some PACs Stop Running “Electioneering Communication” Ads to Avoid Reporting Requirements

As we wrote about last year around this time, MARCH MADNESS is a term that is protected by trademark law.  It is owned by the March Madness Athletic Association (MMAA), a joint venture between the NCAA and the Illinois High School Athletic Association (IHSA).   The IHSA was actually first to begin using this mark to describe its high school basketball tournament in the 1940s. 

Brent Musburger brought MARCH MADNESS to public attention in using that term to describe the NCAA college basketball tournament, during which many hearts are broken each year….if you are lucky enough to have a team that made it this far. (Northwestern came this close to its first NCAA appearance.)

Normally, this would be a case of so-called "reverse confusion," in which the junior user of a mark (here, the NCAA) is so much bigger than the senior user of the mark (the IHSA) that the public thinks the mark belongs to the junior user.  In the typical reverse confusion case, the senior user can stop the junior user from using the mark.  But that did not happen here.  Why? 


Continue Reading MARCH MADNESS: An Unusual Case of Reverse Confusion

The FCC has issued a Forfeiture Order, confirming a $4000 fine levied against a Minneapolis TV station for airing a video news release ("VNR") without sponsorship identification.  This case was previously discussed in our March 25th blog entry, when the Commission issued a Notice of Apparent Liability ("NAL") against the station for this violation.  The primary lesson to be learned from this decision is that video supplied for free may require sponsorship ID if furnished for the purpose of identifying a product or furthering a sponsor’s message beyond any independent (i.e., newsworthy) reason a station has for airing it.

In arguing against the NAL, the station put forth several arguments, all of which were rejected by the FCC.  The station argued that its use of a video supplied by General Motors for a story about the popularity of convertibles in the summer was equivalent to use of a company press release, which the FCC has found acceptable in the past.  But the FCC said that use of a press release without sponsorship ID is permitted only if references to products or brand names are "transient or fleeting."  Here, by contrast, the FCC found the identification of GM cars to be "disproportionate to the subject matter of the news report."


Continue Reading FCC Confirms $4000 Fine For Televising Video News Release Without Sponsorship ID

For the first time since the term of FCC Commissioner Tate expired and Chairman Martin resigned, the FCC will be back to full strength with the Senate’s approval of new FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Meredith Attwell Baker.  What issues of importance to broadcasters will the Commission, now headed by Chairman Julius Genachowski, take up in coming months?   The new Chairman, who gave a number of interviews last week with the trade and popular press, emphasized the importance of the broadband rollout.  Beyond that, his priorities for the broadcast media were not detailed.  He did, however, emphasize, that any broadcast regulation (specifically referencing the mandatory review of the broadcast ownership rules that must begin next year), would have to take into account the realities of the marketplace – including the current economic conditions.

Beyond that, there were few clues as to the new FCC’s priorities in the broadcast world.  But, even though there are no indications of the FCC’s priorities, there are many open broadcast issues that the Commission will, sooner or later, need to resolve.  Some involve fundamental questions of priorities – trying to decide which user of the spectrum should be preferred over others.  Other issues deal with questions of what kind of public service obligations broadcasters will face.  And yet another set of issues deal with just the nitty gritty technical issues with which the FCC is often faced.  Let’s look at some of these open issues that may affect the broadcast industry. 


Continue Reading A Full Five Person FCC – What’s Next For Broadcasters?

Last week, the FCC approved the long-pending application for the transfer of control of Clear Channel Broadcasting from its public shareholder to several private equity funds. Even though the application had been pending at the FCC for over a year, the Commission’s decision was notable for the paucity of issues that were discussed. The decision approves the transfer, conditioned on certain divestitures by the Company and by the equity funds that will control the new company, including divestitures previously ordered by the Commission in connection with the investment of one of these funds in Univision Broadcasting but not yet completed, and rejects three petitions that, from the Commission’s description, did not involve fundamental issues about the nature of the overall transaction, but were instead devoted to certain limited issues, in two cases involving actions in a single market. The divestiture conditions were approved seemingly as a matter of course, and do not provide any new insights into the law concerning the FCC’s attribution rules (unlike the recent decision approving the transfer of control of Ion Television, about which we wrote here, which contained an extensive detailed discussion of what it takes to make an ownership interest “nonattributable” for purposes of the FCC multiple ownership rules). Given the lack of controversy in the Commission’s order, what is perhaps most noteworthy about the decision are the concurring statements of the two Democratic Commissioners, which may provide some indication of the concerns of the Commission should we have a Democratic-controlled Commission following this year’s Presidential election.

Of course, as we’ve described in our posts about the FCC’s Localism Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (here), and the new rules regarding Enhanced Disclosure requirements for television broadcasters (here), the Commission has already begun to act in a far more regulatory manner than any other Commission in the past 20 years. Yet the issues raised by the Democrats in this decision are in areas not yet considered by the Commission. Commissioner Copps expresses his concern about the role of private equity in broadcast ownership, and whether such ownership is in the public interest. In numerous proceedings and in response to the presentation made at the FCC’s January meeting by the Media Bureau, Copps has suggested that private equity should be investigated, both to determine whether the Commission is fully aware of all ownership ties of the companies involved, and also (as emphasized in this case) for the potential economic impact on the operations of the broadcast stations caused by the new debt involved in the acquisition. Here, Commissioner Copps questions whether the announcement of a potential downgrade of the bonds of the Company if these deals occur should have been of more concern to the Commission. Private equity should be aware that, in a future FCC, an investigation of the economics of their operations should be expected.


Continue Reading Does the FCC’s Approval of the Clear Channel Transfer of Control Provide a Window Into the Future?

As 2007 wound to an end, advertising issues figured prominently on the agenda of Washington agencies, including both the FCC and the FTC.  While the FCC is looking at specific regulatory requirements governing broadcast advertising, the FTC is investigating the privacy issues raised by advertising conducted by on-line companies.  In November, the FTC held a two day set of workshops and panels where interested parties discussed issues of behavioral advertising – advertising that can be targeted to individuals based on their history of Internet use, and whether or not regulation of these practices was necessary.  The wide-ranging discussion is summarized on our firm’s Privacy and Security Blog, here.  After gathering this testimony, we will see if the FTC decides to proceed to propose any regulations dealing with this sort of personalized, on-line advertising.

At the FCC, there are two separate proceedings dealing with advertising issues for broadcasters.  The first came about as part of the FCC’s diversity initiatives adopted at its December meeting.  There, the Commission determined that broadcasters will need to certify in their renewal applications that they have not discriminated in their advertising practices.  While this proposal was adopted at the Commission’s December 18 meeting, the full text of the decision has yet to be released, so we do not know the specifics of this new requirement.


Continue Reading Advertising Issues on Washington’s Agenda for 2008