The Copyright Royalty Board makes many important decisions, yet for the last several years, there has been a cloud over its operations, as there have been questions as to whether its members were constitutionally appointed (see our articles here, here and here). Well, the question is before the Courts again – this time squarely in front of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia – a Court one step below the Supreme Court. The Copyright Royalty Board sets the royalty rates to be paid by Internet radio stations for the public performance of sound recordings, and in doing so, they have made some controversial decisions over the last few years. They also set royalties for other digital non-interactive music services, including Sirius XM, music services that come with cable and satellite television services, and background music services. The Board also oversees the distribution of funds that are collected for the retransmission of distant television signals by cable systems. It also sets the rates under Section 115 of the Copyright Act for the reproductions of musical compositions made by record companies when producing musical recordings or downloads, by digital music companies in connection with on-demand music services, and by wireless carriers in selling ringtones.
The case before the Court involves a seemingly small matter – the appeal of Intercollegiate Broadcasting Services from the CRB decision setting default rates for Internet radio services that are not covered by one of the many Webcaster Settlement Act agreements (about which we wrote here and here). IBS essentially is objecting to the fact that the Board would not lower the annual minimum royalty fee paid by some of IBS’ smaller members below $500. But, in connection with its appeal, IBS raised the issue of the constitutionality of the appointment of the Judges, and the Court this week heard an oral argument on the issue – mentioning the rate questions only in passing while concentrating on the constitutionality of the appointment of the Judges.