The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today released its decision for the most part rejecting the appeals of webcasters of the 2007 decision of the Copyright Royalty Board setting Internet Radio royalty rates for the use of sound recordings.  The Court generally upheld the Board’s decision, finding that the issues raised by the appealing parties did not show that the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" – a high standard of judicial review that the Courts accord when reviewing supposedly "expert" administrative agency decisions.  On only one issue did the Court have concerns with the CRB’s decision – that being the question of the $500 per channel minimum fees that it had required that webcasters pay.  The Court found that per channel fee, which could result in astronomical fees for some webcasters regardless of their listenership, was not supported by the record evidence, and remanded that aspect of the case to the CRB for further consideration.

The Court surprised some observers by not reaching the constitutional issue of whether the Copyright Royalty Judges were properly appointed.  As we wrote before (see our posts here and here), issues were raised by appellant Royalty Logic, contending that these Judges should be appointed by the President, and not by the Librarian of Congress.  In the recent Court decision on the CRB rates for satellite radio, where the issue had not even been raised, one Judge nevertheless wrote that he questioned the constitutionality of the CRB.  The Court here decided not to decide the issue – finding that it had been raised too late by Royalty Logic, and raised too many fundamental issues (including whether the Register of Copyrights should herself be appointed by the President, potentially invalidating many copyrights) to be decided on the minimal briefing accorded it by the parties.


Continue Reading Court Rejects Webcaster Challenge to Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Internet Radio Royalties – And Does Not Rule on Constitutional Issue of CRB Appointment

In the last 5 days, the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC has held two oral arguments on appeals from decisions of the Copyright Royalty Board – one from the Board’s decision on Internet Radio Royalties and the other on the royalties applicable to satellite radio.  The decisions were different in that, in the Internet Radio decision, the appellants (including the group known as the "Small Commercial Webcasters" that I represented in the case) challenged the Board’s decision, arguing that the rates that were arrived at were too high.  In contrast, at the second argument, SoundExchange was the appellant, arguing that the Board’s decision set royalties for satellite radio  that were too low.  But, in both arguments, an overriding question was whether the Judges on the CRB were constitutionally appointed and thus whether any decisions of the Board had any validity.  While the question was expected and specifically raised in the webcasting proceeding (see our post here when that issue was first raised), the discussion at the satellite radio argument was somewhat of a surprise, as the issue had not been raised by either party, and the Appeals Court judges were not even the same judges who had heard the Internet radio argument.  Yet one of the Judges raised the issue, unprompted by any party, by asking if the Copyright Royalty Judges were properly appointed and indirectly asking if their decision would have any validity if the constitutional issue was found to exist.

Will the Court decide the constitutionality issue, and what would it mean?  No one knows for sure.  One of the issues raised by the Court in the Internet radio case was whether the issue had been raised in a timely fashion.  In both cases, the possibility of requiring additional briefing on the issue was also raised by the Court, though no such briefing has been ordered – yet.  Even if the Court was to find that the Board was not properly appointed, there are questions as to whether the existing decisions should nevertheless be allowed to stand, while blocking new decisions until a new appointment scheme is found.  Alternatively, Congress might have to intervene to resolve the whole issue and, if it was to do that, would Congress simply ratify the current decision, or would there be new considerations that would affect any Congressional resolution?  The issue raises many questions, and we’ll just have to wait to see what the resolution will be.


Continue Reading Two Court of Appeals Arguments on Sound Recording Music Royalty Rates – And the Real Question is Whether the Copyright Royalty Board is Constitutional

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

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. 


Continue Reading SoundExchange and CPB Reach a Settlement on Webcasting Royalties – More Deals to Come?

We recently wrote about the challenge to appointment of the Copyright Royalty Board’s judges filed by Royalty Logic as part of the appeal of the Board’s decision on Internet Radio royalties.  Royalty Logic argued that the appointment of the Copyright Royalty Judges was improper, as the Librarian of Congress was not the "head of a department" who can appoint lesser government officials under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.  Thus, Royalty Logic contends that the decision reached by the Board as to Internet radio royalties was a nullity, as the Board effectively does not legally exist.  Earlier this week, the Board and SoundExchange filed their replies to the Royalty Logic motion, arguing that, in fact, the Librarian is the head of a department, as he is appointed by the President and approved by Congress and runs a government "department," i.e. the Library of Congress, of which the Copyright Office is a part.  In demonstrating that the Library is a department, the briefs reach back to the creation of the Library by Thomas Jefferson, and look at the legislative history of legislation modifying the powers of the Library and the process for the appointment of the Librarian – legislation passed in 1870 and 1897.  Essentially, the very technical argument about why the Board was not properly constituted was met with an equally technical one that says it was properly formed.  Clearly, arguments only lawyers could love.

While Royalty Logic will have the opportunity to respond, the litigation process continues on the main portion of the appeal, as SoundExchange filed its intervenor’s brief the week before last, defending the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board.  In one notable departure, SoundExchange, while contending that the Board was correct in determining the minimum fees that would be required of webcasters, it said that, because of the agreement that it reached with certain webcasters that would cap minimum fees at $50,000  no matter how many channels a service might have (see our discussion of the agreement here), it asked that the Court remand that one limited matter back to the Board for adoption of the limitation on minimum fees so that it would apply to all webcasters and not just those who signed the agreement.  In all other respects, SoundExchange opposed the briefs of the webcasters.


Continue Reading Yes We Do Exist – Claims Copyright Royalty Board

The appeals of last year’s Copyright Royalty Board decision on the royalties paid for the use of sound recordings by Internet radio stations continue on, and one recent filing raises interesting questions of whether or not the CRB was properly appointed.  Last week, the Department of Justice, which represents the CRB in defending its decision in the Court of Appeals, filed its brief in opposition to the briefs of the webcasters, which we summarized here.  The DOJ brief essentially argued that the webcasters’ briefs were insufficient to satisfy the requirement for a successful appeal – that the CRB decision was arbitrary and capricious or otherwise contrary to law.  Essentially, a Court need not revisit the decision and substitute its judgment as to whether the it believes that the decision was correct, but instead, to overturn a decision, the Court must find that the CRB (the expert agency) either violated the law or could not, on the fact, have logically come up with the decision that it did.  Thus, the DOJ brief made arguments that there was enough factual evidence for the CRB to decide in the way that it did, and made arguments that the webcasters had not offered contrary arguments or evidence on certain points during the CRB proceeding and were therefore barred from raising those arguments now.  Just before the DOJ brief was filed, another pleading raised the fundamental question of whether the Copyright Royalty Board was properly appointed and, if not, whether it has the constitutional authority to decide the cases that it has been considering.

This new argument about the CRB’s authority comes in a request filed with the Court of Appeals by Royalty Logic, a party to the CRB proceeding.  Royalty Logic is not a webcaster, but instead is seeking to be an alternative collection agency to SoundExchange.  Its pleading seeks supplemental briefing on the question of whether the Copyright Royalty Judges are “inferior officers” of the Federal government who, under the Constitution, can only be appointed by the President, by the Courts or by the head of a Department of the government. In a recent Supreme Court case, the Court found that certain tax court judges, who were appointed by a chief judge and not by a cabinet-level officer (the head of a “department”) violated this Appointments Clause of the Constitution. There has been much press coverage in the past few weeks as to whether this decision also applies to patent judges, and whether it could invalidate hundreds of patents approved by these judges (see the NY Times article on this issue, and listen to an NPR piece about the controversy). Royalty Logic contends that the same logic should apply to the appointment of the Copyright Royalty Judges who make up the CRB.  The Copyright Royalty Judges are appointed by the Librarian of Congress.  One question would be whether the Librarian is the equivalent to the head of a department though, technically, the Library of Congress is not even in the Executive Branch of government, but instead part of Congress.  In any event, Royalty Logic notes that the Copyright Royalty Tribunal, a predecessor agency done away with during the Clinton administration as part of their "Reinventing Government" program (one of the few agencies that was "reinvented"), had members appointed by the President.


Continue Reading Does the Copyright Royalty Board Exist – Internet Radio Appeal Proceeds and New Issues Arise

The FCC Form 355 requiring "enhanced disclosure" by television stations was a frequent topic of discussion at this week’s NAB Convention in Las Vegas.  That form will require that television broadcasters report significant, detailed information about their programming, providing very detailed reports of the percentage of programming that they devote to news, public affairs, election programming, local programming, PSAs, independently produced programs and various other program categories, as well as specifics of each program that fits into these categories (see our detailed description of the requirements here).  Obviously, all broadcasters were concerned about how they would deal with the expense and time necessary to complete the forms, and the potential for complaints about the programming that such reports will generate.  At legal sessions by the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law and the Federal Communications Bar Association, held in connection with the NAB Convention, it became very clear to me that the obligations imposed by these new rules are obligations adopted for absolutely no reason, as the Commission has not adopted any rules mandating specific amounts of the types of programming reported on the form.  In fact, one of the Commissioner’s legal assistants confirmed that, unless and until the FCC adopts such specific programming requirements, the Commission’s staff will not need to spend any time processing these forms.  Thus, if the form goes into effect, broadcasters will be forced to keep these records, and expend significant amounts of staff time and station resources necessary to complete the forms, for essentially no purpose.

Of course, public interest advocates will argue that the forms will allow the Commission to assess the station’s operation in the public interest, and will allow the public to complain about failures of stations to serve local needs.  But, as in a recent license renewal case we wrote about here, the Commission rejected a Petition to Deny against a station based on its alleged failure to do much local public affairs programming as, without specific quantitative program requirements, the Commission cannot punish a station for not doing specific amounts of particular programming. If the Commission adheres to this precedent, it will not be able to fine stations for the information that they put on the Form 355, but only for not filing it or not completing it accurately.  Thus, unless the Commission adopts specific programming requirements, the form will be nothing more than a paperwork trap for the unwary or overburdened broadcaster.  And, as is usually the case with such obligations, the burden will fall hardest on the small broadcaster who does not the staff and resources to devote to otherwise unnecessary paperwork.


Continue Reading FCC Form 355 – A Form Without a Reason?

A full year ago, the Copyright Royalty Board released its decision setting royalties for the use of sound recordings by Internet Radio webcasters (see various posts on the subject here).  As an article this week in the Boston Globe sets out, despite much talk of a post-decision settlement to lower the royalties set by the CRB that many Internet Radio operators claim will put their stations out of business, no such settlement has yet been announced.  And, in a week that brought about the transfer of the operations of one of the largest webcaster’s operations to a traditional radio company (as CBS took over operations of AOL’s Internet Radio service), appeals of the decision were filed with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  A busy week, but still no resolution of the Internet radio controversy.

Four separate appeals briefs were submitted to the Court.  One was a combined brief of the large Webcasters (represented by DiMA, the Digital Media Association) and the Small Webcasters(Accuradio, Radioio, Digitally Imported Radio, Radio Paradise), another was submitted by several commercial broadcast groups (Bonneville, the NAB and the National Religious Broadcasters Association) and a third by several noncommercial groups (including college broadcasters, NPR, and noncommercial religious broadcasters).  A final brief was submitted by Royalty Logic, a company that wants to become an alternative to SoundExchange as the collection agent for performers.  These briefs will be answered by the Department of Justice (defending the CRB and its decision before the Court) and SoundExchange.  The briefing process will continue for several months, with an oral argument to follow, quite possibly not until the Fall.  Thus, a decision in the case may well not be reached until 2009. 


Continue Reading A Year After the Webcasting Royalty Decision – No Settlement, Appeal Briefs Filed

The US Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia has set the briefing dates on the appeal filed by various webcasting groups seeking review of the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board setting Internet radio royalties for the period 2006-2010 for the use of sound recordings (see our coverage of this controversy here, and

Last week brought more action, and not much in the way of  results, as we count down to the July 15 effective date of the new Internet Radio Royalties.  The actions that received the largest amount of press coverage were the hearing before the US House of Representatives Small Business Committee, and the offer by SoundExchange suggesting that the minimum $500 per channel fee be capped at $2500 per service. While both initially seemed to offer the prospect of some resolution of the dispute over the Internet Radio royalties that were adopted by the Copyright Royalty Board, in fact neither ultimately resulted in much.

The Committee hearing featured webcasters and musicians – equally divided between those who believed that the royalties were fairly decided, and those who believed that the rates were too high.  The one thing on which most of the witnesses seemed to agree was that some rate adjustment was warranted for small webcasters, though no one was able to quantify how such a settlement should be reached.  The Congressional representatives, on the other hand, were cautious to act, asking again and again whether the parties were going to be able to settle the case between themselves.  While Congressman Jay Inslee testified in favor of his Internet Radio Equality Act, the members of the committee seemed hesitant to act while there were judicial avenues of relief still pending, and the possibility of settlement.


Continue Reading Minimum Per Channel Fee Offer – Waiting for the Stay?