Just a reminder that by October 1, Television stations must once again make their triennial carriage elections.  By that date, TV stations must notify the local cable systems and satellite carriers in their market in writing as to whether the station intends to be carried pursuant to must-carry or a retransmission consent agreement for the

The Stephen Colbert Christmas Special begins with Colbert sitting at the piano, writing new Christmas songs.  Why?  He explains that, while he likes all of the old Christmas songs well enough, he’d only get royalties if he wrote the songs, so he’s writing his own.  In a few sentences, Colbert explains the system of broadcast royalties in the United States, and the source of the dispute over the broadcast performance royalty that took up much committee time in the last Congress, and is bound to return in the next Congress in 2009.  As Colbert explains, in the US, the composers get paid when their music is played on a broadcast station. These payments come from the the royalties that broadcast stations pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, the performing rights organizations or "PROs" that represent the composers or the music publishing companies that hold the copyrights to those songs.   But, as Colbert points out, the performers do not get paid when they sing the song on the air.

We’ve written about the controversy about whether or not performers should get a royalty when a song that they perform but did not write, is played on the air.  But Colbert seems to have solved the problem about the performer not getting royalties when their songs are played on the air – simply by writing his own songs. And maybe we’ll be singing these songs at future Christmas parties, paying Colbert royalties, and at the same time explaining broadcast performance royalties to future generations.


Continue Reading Stephen Colbert’s Christmas Special Explains Broadcast Performance Royalties

The Commission this week released an Order exempting certain small cable systems from the requirement that, after the February 2009 digital transition, for a three year period, cable systems carry both an analog version of a broadcast television station’s signal plus the station’s high definition signal.  This dual carriage requirement was imposed so that the

The FCC has now joined the Nevada Courts (see our post here) in denying Dennis Kucinich entry into the Presidential debates.  In a decision released this week, the FCC found that they could not force CNN to include Kucinich in its Democratic Presidential Debate, as such an action would violate the First Amendment.  The FCC only has the jurisdiction to determine if Kucinich was entitled to equal opportunities for not being included, and the Commission rejected that claim as well, finding that the carriage of the debate was on-the-spot coverage of a news event, exempt from equal opportunities. 

This decision is what we predicted in our post when the court’s denied Kucinich access to the Nevada Presidential debate.  As we set out in that post, to encourage political debates, the FCC has determined that debates are on-the-spot coverage of news events as long as more than one candidate is included, and the decision as to which candidates to invite is made based on some rational criteria that is not exercised in some discriminatory, partisan fashion.  In this case, the Commission found that CNN’s criteria – that a candidate had to have finished in the top 4 in a previous primary and be polling over 5% in an established national Presidential preference poll were not standards that were being applied arbitrarily for partisan reasons. The Commission concluded that the mere fact that Kucinich was receiving Federal funds and had unique positions on the issues was not enough to conclude that CNN was required to either include him in the debate or provide him equal time.


Continue Reading FCC Rules Against Kucinich Request for Inclusion in CNN Presidential Debate

The FCC has released its agenda for its December 18 meeting – and it promises to be one of the most important,and potentially most contentious, in recent memory.  On the agenda is the Commission’s long awaited decision on the Chairman’s broadcast multiple ownership plan relaxing broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership rules (see our summary here).  Also, the FCC will consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Localism issues (pending issues summarized here) following the conclusion of its nationwide hearings on the topic, as well as an Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on initiatives to encourage broadcast ownership by minorities and other new entrants (summary here).  For cable companies, the Commission has scheduled a proposed order on national ownership limits.  And, in addition to all these issues on ownership matters, the FCC will also consider revising its sponsorship identification rules to determine if new rules need to be adopted to cover "embedded advertising", i.e. product placement in broadcast programs.  All told, these rules could result in fundamental changes in the media landscape.

The broadcast ownership items, dealing with broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership, localism and diversity initiatives, all grow out of the Commission’s attempts to change the broadcast ownership rules in 2003.  That attempt was largely rejected by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which remanded most of the rules back to the FCC for further consideration, including considerations about their impact on minority ownership.  The localism proceeding was also an outgrowth of that proceeding, started as an attempt by the Commission to deal with consolidation critics who felt that the public had been shut out of the process of determining the rules in 2003, and claiming that big media was neglecting the needs and interests of local audiences.


Continue Reading FCC Meeting Agenda for December 18 – Potentially One of the Most Important in Recent Memory – Multiple Ownership, Localism, Minority Ownership, Product Placement and Cable TV National Ownership Caps

The Copyright Royalty Board today announced that it is taking comments on a settlement to establish royalties for the use of sound recordings to be paid by companies that are planning to provide audio services to be delivered with satellite and cable programming.  In contrast to the "preexisting subscription services" who were in existence at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, who recently reached a settlement agreeing to pay 7 to 7.5% of gross revenues for royalties (see our post, here), this settlement is with "New Subscription Services" which did not offer these kinds of subscription services in 1998.  This settlement does not apply to subscription services provided through the Internet.  The covered "new subscription services" have agreed to pay the greater of 15% of revenue or a per subscriber fee that will escalate over the 5 years that the agreement is in effect.  Given that these new services will be providing essentially the same service as the Preexisting Services, why the difference in rate?  Perhaps, it is because the difference in the law.

As we wrote earlier this week, the Preexisting Satellite Service pay royalties set based on the standards of Section 801(b) of the Copyright Act, which takes into account a number of factors including the interest of the public in getting access to copyrighted material, the relative contributions and financial risks of the parties in distributing the copyrighted material, the stability of the industry, and the right of the copyright holder to get a fair return on their intellectual property.  By contrast, the new subscription services who entered into the settlement just announced, who weren’t around at the time of the drafting of the DMCA, use the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard also used for Internet radio.  And, because of the applicability of the willing buyer willing seller standard and the apparent uncertainties of the litigation process using it, these new services apparently decided to agree to a royalty double that of the preexisting services, even though they provide essentially the same service.


Continue Reading Another Proposed Settlement of Another Copyright Royalty Board Proceeding – New Subscription Services

The Copyright Royalty Board has asked for comments on proposed royalty rates for the use of sound recordings by "Preexisting Subscription Services."  In adopting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Congress divided digital music services into various categories, each of which are assessed different royalties for the use of sound recordings. Preexisting subscription services were those digital subscription music services in existence as of the date of the adoption of the DMCA. Basically, these were the digital cable music services that were in operation in 1997.  In the proceeding now being resolved by a settlement between Music Choice (the one remaining service that was in existence in 1997) and SoundExchange, the companies propose a royalty of 7.25% of gross revenues of the service for the period 2008-2011, and 7.5% of gross revenues for 2012. A $100,000 minimum payment is due at the beginning of each year.  Comments on the settlement are due on November 30.  As set forth below, this settlement sets the stage for the upcoming decision on satellite radio royalty rates – as these two services are both governed by a royalty-setting standard that is different than that used for Internet radio.

The Copyright Royalty Board announced the proceeding to set the royalties for Preexisting Subscription Services at the same time as they initiated the proceeding to set new royalties for Satellite Radio Services – which were also considered to be preexisting services at the time of the adoption of the DMCA – not because they were actually operating, but as their services had been announced and construction permits to construct the satellites had been issued by the FCC.  No settlement has been reached with the satellite radio services (except as to limited "new subscription service" that XM and Sirius provide in conjunction with cable and satellite television packages where, according to the CRB website, a settlement has been reached), and a hearing was held earlier this year to take evidence on what the rates for those services should be.  As we’ve written before, SoundExchange has requested royalties that would reach 23% of a satellite radio operator’s gross revenues.  The satellite radio case has been completed, briefs filed, and oral arguments were held in October.  A decision in the case is expected before the end of the year.


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Asks for Comment on Music Choice Royalty – Satellite Radio is Next

Late Tuesday night, in a meeting originally scheduled to start at 9:30 in the morning, the FCC adopted an order establishing the rules governing the carriage of broadcast signals by cable operators after the February 17, 2009 transition to digital television.  While the full text of the Commission’s action has not yet been released (and may not be released for quite some time), based on the FCC’s formal news release and the statements made by the commissioners at the meeting and in their accompanying press releases, we can provide the following summary of these important FCC actions.

First, for a period of at least three years after the February 17, 2009 transition from analog to digital broadcasting, cable operators will be required to make the signals of local broadcast stations available to all of their subscribers by either:  (1) carrying the television station’s digital signal in an analog format, or (2) carrying the signal only in digital format, provided that all subscribers have the necessary equipment to view the broadcast content.  This rule reflects a compromise position offered by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and is regarded as less burdensome on cable systems then the FCC’s original proposal of an indefinite analog carriage obligation. 

Second, the FCC reaffirmed its existing requirement that cable systems must carry High Definition (HD) broadcast signals in HD format, and further that it must carry signals with “no material degradation”, i.e., with picture quality as good as any other programming carried by the operator.  In affirming its "no material degradation" standard, the FCC rejected a proposal by the broadcast industry that would have required operators to pass-through all of the bits in digital television broadcast signal.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Post-Digital Transition “Must-Carry” Rules, Extends Ban on Exclusive Programming Contracts, and Opens Inquiry Into “Tying” Agreements

On Friday, in a number of publications, a story was carried questioning the claims made by the NAB that the broadcast performance royalty being sought by the music industry could amount to 10-35% of the revenue of the radio industry.  A post on the Wired Listening Post blog seemed to have started the story.  This is the royalty which would be paid to the copyright holders in the sound recording – and would be in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the composers of music (see our post on the topic, here and here) .  Wired quoted a spokesman for the Music First Coalition (the music industry coalition seeking the performance royalty) claiming that the NAB’s claims are overstated – and that any broadcast royalty to be paid to sound recording copyright holders would be similar to those paid in Europe for the use of sound recordings, and similar to the amounts currently paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the use of the musical compositions, in the range of 3-5% of revenues. Only the Radio and Internet Newsletter seemed to question this statement.  From looking at the history of SoundExchange’s claims made in other royalty proceedings, the questions raised by RAIN seem entirely justified.  SoundExchange has consistently argued in connection with all of the other on-going royalty proceedings that the sound recording royalty is far more valuable than the composition royalty – asking for a royalty over 6 times the amount of the composition royalty – 30% of gross revenues.  How can Music First now contend that the royalty will be only a few percent of revenue, when their representaives have consistently requested royalties many multiples of that amount?

At the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the broadcast performance royalty (see our post, here), when committee members asked how much the royalty would be, Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights, suggested that it could a simple matter of applying the "willing buyer, willing seller" criteria of Section 114 of the Copyright Act to broadcasting.  That standard is exactly the same one that led to the current Internet radio royalties which have been so controversial (see our coverage here).  In that proceeding, SoundExchange had asked for royalties of the greater of the per performance royalty that the Copyright Royalty Board imposed or 30% of gross revenue.  While the Copyright Royalty Board did not adopt a percentage of revenue royalty because they feared that it was too difficult to compute for services that had multiple revenue streams, most observers have estimated that the pe performance royalty exceeds 100% of revenue of the small commercial webcasters, and are close to 100% of revenue even for the Internet radio services provided by the major Internet content companies.  In making their offer of a "special deal" to Small Commercial Webcasters on May 23, with royalties between 10 and 12% of gross revenue, SoundExchange specifically stated that it thought that the 10-12% rate was "a below-market rate to subsidize small webcasters … to help small operators get a stronger foothold" in developing their businesses.  While 10% is suggested to be a "below market" rate in an immature industry still struggling to find a business model, the Music First Coalition now suggests that a royalty less than half that amount is what they would request for broadcast radio.


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty – Getting Fooled Again?