Press Reports (such as this one) have stated that the Obama campaign has purchased half-hour blocks of time on at least NBC and CBS to broadcast a political infomercial to be aired at 8 PM Eastern time on October 29.  Some reports indicate that other broadcast and cable networks will also be broadcasting the same program.  Did the networks have to sell him the time?  In fact, they probably did.  Under FCC rules, Federal political candidates have a right of reasonable access to "all classes" of time sold by the station in all dayparts.  This includes a right to program length time, a right that was affirmed by the US Court of Appeals when the networks did not want to sell Jimmy Carter a program length commercial to announce the launch of his reelection bid.  Because of this right, the networks often had to sell Lyndon LaRouche half hour blocks of time to promote his perennial candidacy for President. 

How often do networks (or stations) have to make such time available?  They only have the right to be "reasonable." While what is reasonable has not been defined, the amount of time that will be requested will probably be limited by the cost of such time.  Even were it not limited by cost, the FCC would probably not require that a broadcaster sell such a prime time block more than once or twice during the course of an election – and given the late stage that we are in the current election, it seems unlikely that more than one such request would have to be honored during these last few weeks of the campaign.  Stations do not need to give candidates the exact time that they requested – so the rumored reluctance of Fox to sell this precise time to the Obama campaign because it might conflict with the World Series would probably be reasonable – if they offered him the opportunity to buy a half hour block at some other comparable time.   


Continue Reading Obama Buys A Half Hour of Time on Broadcast Networks – What FCC Legal Issues are Involved?

In a recent article in Silicon Valley Insider, TargetSpot’s CEO, Doug Perlson, suggests that the financial savior of Internet Radio might be payola – taking money from record companies or artists to play their songs.  Putting aside any issues of the financial benefits of such a plan, and the creative and aesthetic issues that pay for play may raise, and since this is a blog written by lawyers, we’ll deal with the legal implications.  And as lawyers, we’re forced to play the spoilsport.  As set forth below, such a scheme can be done legally (just as it could be on terrestrial radio with the proper disclosures).  But, while there has been no legal enforcement of such activities, careful Internet radio operators would best be advised to be careful about just taking the money and playing songs, but instead should make some disclosure of the nature of the service that they are providing.

The payola statute, 47 USC Section 508, applies to radio stations and their employees, so by its terms it does not apply to Internet radio (at least to the extent that Internet Radio is not transmitted by radio waves – we’ll ignore questions of whether Internet radio transmitted by wi-fi, WiMax or cellular technology might be considered a "radio" service for purposes of this statute).  But that does not end the inquiry.  Note that neither the prosecutions brought by Eliot Spitzer in New York state a few years ago nor the prosecution of legendary disc jockey Alan Fried in the 1950s were brought under the payola statute.  Instead, both were based on state law commercial bribery statutes on the theory that improper payments were being received for a commercial advantage.  Such statutes are in no way limited to radio, but can apply to any business.  Thus, Internet radio stations would need to be concerned.


Continue Reading Payola on Internet Radio – Legal?

SoundExchange yesterday announced that it had signed agreements with 24 small commercial webcasters.  Contrary to what many press reports have stated, this is not a settlement with Small Commercial Webcasters.  In truth, what was announced was that 24 small webcasters had signed on to the unilateral offer that SoundExchange made to small webcasters, about which we wrote here.  Essentially, this is the same offer that SoundExchange made in May, which was rejected by many independent webcasters as being insufficient to allow for the hoped for growth of  these companies, and insufficient to encourage investment in these companies.  These larger Small Commercial webcasters, including those that participated in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding, rejected that offer and instead have sought to negotiate a settlement with SoundExchange that would meet their needs.  Instead of reaching a true settlement with these companies that had participated throughout the CRB proceeding and now have an appeal pending before the Court of Appeals, SoundExchange instead announced that their unilateral proposal was accepted by 24 unnamed webcasters.  Thus, rather than negotiating a settlement, if anything this announcement shows that SoundExchange has not been willing to negotiate – as it has not moved substantively off the proposal they announced over 4 months ago.

While 24 webcasters may have signed on, it would seem that these must be entities that don’t expect to grow their revenues to $1.25 million, or grow audiences that reach the 5,000,000 tuning hour limit at which, under the SoundExchange-imposed agreement, the webcaster needs to start paying at the full CRB-imposed royalty rate.  Moreover, the agreements only cover music from SoundExchange members, excluding much independent music that many webcasters play.  For music from companies that are not SoundExchange members, a webcaster has to pay at full CRB rates.  For a small service playing major label music, the agreement may cover their needs, but for the larger companies playing less mainstream music, a different deal is needed. 


Continue Reading SoundExchange Announces 24 Agreements – But Not One a Settlement With Small Webcasters

On Friday, the FCC showed released two decisions – both dealing with a handful of inadvertent violations of the Commission’s rules on advertising directed to children. In one case, a licensee admitted in its license renewal application 4 violations of the rules and was fined $8,000. In another, the licensee admitted 8 violations, received no fine at all, instead being only admonished for its errors. Why the difference?

The FCC justified the difference in treatment based on the nature of the violations.  In reality, the station that did not receive any fine actually broadcast more commercial material in excess of the limits on the amount of advertising permitted in children’s program than did the station that was fined. The reason – “program length commercials.” These are instances where, in a commercial message, a character from the surrounding program appears. In that situation, the FCC considers the entire program as a commercial, and thus the violation is considered much more serious than a mere overage in the time limits on commercial material in children’s programs. The station that received the fine had 3 program length commercials, while the station that was not fined simply ran more commercial matter than permitted by the rules – and did not have any program length commercials. But are these distinctions really justified?


Continue Reading Plan Your Inadvertent Errors Carefully – A Fine for Children’s Television Violations May be at Stake