The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee today approved a bill that would impose, for the first time, a royalty on radio broadcasters for the public performance of sound recordings in their over-the-air broadcasts.  if this bill were to be adopted by the full House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed by the President, broadcasters would have to pay for the use of sound recordings (the actual recording of a song by a particular musical artist) in addition to the royalties that they already pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of the underlying musical composition.  While, from the discussion at the hearing today, the bill is much amended from the original bill (about which we wrote, here) to try to address some of the issue that have been raised by critics, the Committee made clear that there were still issues that needed to be addressed – preferably through negotiations between broadcasters and the recording industry – before the bill would move on to the full House for consideration.  It was, as Representative Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas stated, still a "work in progress."  In fact, the Committee asked that the General Accounting Office conduct an expedited study of the impact of this legislation on radio and on musicians – but it did not wait for that study before approving the bill – despite requests from some royalty opponents that it do so. 

While I have not yet seen a copy of the amended bill that Congressman John Conyers, the Chairman of the Committee, said had been completed only a few hours before the hearing, the statements made at the hearing set out some details of the changes made to the original version of the bill.  First, changes were made to reduce the impact on small broadcasters – reducing royalties to as little as $500 for stations that make less than $100,000 in yearly gross revenues.  Interestingly, Representative Zoe Lofgren pointed out that, in a bill that means to address the perceived inequality in royalties, a small webcaster with $100,000 in revenues would be paying $10,000 in royalties – 20 times what is proposed for the small broadcaster.  And the small broadcaster who would pay $5000 for revenues up to $1.25 million in revenue would be paying 1/30th of the amount paid by a small webcaster making that same amount of revenue.


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty Passes House Judiciary Committee – A Work In Progress

The week, Congressman Rick Boucher, a member of both the House of Representatives Commerce and Judiciary Committees, told an audience of broadcasters at the NAB Leadership Conference that they should accept that there will be a performance royalty for sound recordings used in their over-the-air programming and negotiate with the record companies about the amount of a such a royalty.  He suggested that broadcasters negotiate a deal on over-the-air royalties, and get a discount on Internet radio royalties.  Sound recordings are the recordings by a particular recording artist of a particular song.  These royalties would be in addition to the payments to the composers of the music that are already made by broadcasters through the royalties collected by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.   Congressman Boucher heads the Commerce Committee subcommittee in charge of broadcast regulation, and he has been sympathetic to the concerns of Internet radio operators who have complained about the high royalty rates for the use of sound recordings.  Having the Congressman acknowledge that broadcasters needed to cut a deal demonstrated how seriously this issue is really being considered on Capitol Hill.

The NAB was quick to respond, issuing a press release, highlighting Congressional opposition to the Performance royalty (or performance tax as the NAB calls it) that has been shown by support for the Local Radio Freedom Act – an anti-performance royalty resolution that currently has over 150 Congressional supporters.  The press release also highlights the promotional benefits of radio airplay for musicians, citing many musicians who have thanked radio for launching and promoting their careers.   The controversy was also discussed in an article on Bloomberg.com.  In the article, the central issue of the whole controversy was highlighted.  If adopted, how much would the royalty be?  I was quoted on how the royalty could be very high for the industry (as we’ve written here, using past precedent, the royalty could exceed 20% of revenue for large music-intensive stations).  An RIAA spokesman responded by saying that broadcasters were being alarmists, and the royalty would be "reasonable."  But would it?


Continue Reading Congressman Boucher to NAB – Accept Performance Royalty – How Much Would It Cost?

Last week, we wrote about one issue that was addressed at last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on music royalties – the standards used to derive the royalties, and expressed hope that there was at least some interest in compromise on behalf of the Senators and industry representatives.  However, another issue which came out of those hearings suggests that compromise may not be so easy if the parties really believe what they say – as there is a fundamental distinction in both how the parties view the health of the Internet radio business, and how they view the relationship between royalties and the music business generally.  One can only hope that the gulf that was evident was just due to public posturing as, if it was not, there may well be an insurmountable differences between the parties that cannot be bridged in any settlement negotiations over the royalties that Internet radio pays for the use of sound recordings.

The gap became evident from the opening statements of the first panel – comprised of two Senators interested in the issue- Senator Wyden on behalf of the Internet Radio Equality Act stating that it was necessary to avoid having the high royalties decided by the Copyright Royalty Board destroy a fledgling technology, while Senator Corker of Tennessee talked about the importance of music to radio and the exhaustive process that the CRB had gone through in arriving at the royalties that it approved.  But in the day’s principal panel, the issues became crystal clear, as John Simson of SoundExchange talked about the "vibrant" business of Internet radio, citing an analyst’s report that Internet radio would be a $20 billion advertising market by 2020, and the statement of an employee of CBS that Internet radio was a great business and that CBS was going to "own it."  Speaking next, Joe Kennedy, CEO of Internet radio company Pandora had a dramatically different perspective – talking about an industry analyst who stated that the royalties that would result from the CRB royalties would exceed the revenue of the Internet Radio industry, and that, for Pandora, the failure to find a compromise solution to the CRB-imposed royalties would mean that his service would "die."  He pointed to Pandora’s position as the largest of the Internet radio companies in terms of listenership, the $25 million in revenue that it expects to make this year, and how $18,000,000 of that would go just to the SoundExchange royalties – 75% of its revenue to this one expense. 


Continue Reading Senate Hearing: The Search for Compromise on Music Performance Royalties – Part Two: The Issue of Perspective

Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the sound recording performance royalty, titling the hearing  "Music and Radio in the 21st Century: Assuring Fair Rates and Rules Across Platforms" (a webcast of which can be accessed here).  While the hearing was ostensibly to search for a way to come up with a uniform system of determining music royalties across various digital media platforms (though the broadcast analog performance royalty snuck into the discussion from time to time), in reality it appeared to be two things – a search for compromise and a demonstration of the dramatically different perspectives from which the recording industry and the digital radio industry approach the topic.  While one might assume that the dramatically different approaches would mean that no compromise was possible, there were a few areas of commonality that perhaps reflect the potential that, at some point, common ground can be found.  We will review the hearing’s discussions in multiple parts – today dealing with the issue of the standard to be used in assessing royalties for the public performance of sound recordings and, in a subsequent post, we will summarize the differing world views of the participants and why the dramatically different ways that they see the business make for difficulty in compromise.

But first, a summary of the issues that were to be discussed at the hearing. Essentially, the hearing was to discuss two bills addressing different aspects of the royalty issues.  Senator Feinstein of California, who chaired the hearing, was looking for any common ground that might exist that would allow for movement on the Perform Act that she has introduced.  That act would attempt to do two things – (1) assure that a common standard was used to assess sound recording royalties in all digital media and (2) adopt standards that would require digital services to use some form of security or encryption that would make "stream ripping" more difficult.  The first goal of her bill, looking for a common standard, was an attempt to avoid some of the problems that have been evident in the royalty proceedings that have thus far been held before the Copyright Royalty Board which have resulted in dramatically different royalties – ranging from 6 to 8% of revenue for satellite radio companies and a similar royalty for digital cable music services (see our posts on those rates here and here) derived under an "801(b) standard" (after section 801b of the Copyright Act) , and the royalty for Internet radio that has been estimated to range between 75% and 300% of gross revenues of those services, derived from a "willing buyer, willing seller" royalty standard.  The Perform Act would subject all to a single standard – and it currently proposes a new standard – "fair market value."


Continue Reading Senate Hearing: The Search for Compromise on Music Performance Royalties – Part One: The Issue of Standards

Once again, the extension of the sound recording performance royalty to broadcasters has become a hot topic in Washington. The subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property of the  House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the bill introduced by Congressman Berman (about which we first reported here).  That bill would include broadcasters in the Section 114 sound recoding royalty currently applicable to digital music users including Internet radio, satellite radio and cable radio. Under the bill, the Copyright Royalty Board would be charged with the responsibility of determining what a royalty would be using the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard. Following this subcommittee approval, the bill would next be considered by the full committee. To become law, the Committee and the full House of Representatives would have to approve it, and similar legislation would need to be enacted by the Senate. As the NAB has garnered the support of a majority of the members of the House on a non-binding resolution opposing the imposition of the royalty on broadcasters, and as there is not much time remaining in the legislative session before the election and the end of this Congress, the whole process may well have to start fresh in 2009 (bills have to be reintroduced after the end of each two-year Congressional session). Yet, with all of the controversy over the issue in recent weeks, it appears certain that the issue will arise again, so it is important to look at some of the recent action.

Two weeks ago, the House subcommittee held a hearing on the issue. Prior to the hearing, the MusicFirst Coalition (principally supported by the RIAA and the affiliated record companies as 50% of any royalty goes to the copyright holders who are usually the labels) had Nancy Sinatra and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band making the rounds on Capitol Hill in support of the royalty. These appearances follow the precedent set in earlier Capitol Hill proceedings, where the Coalition has brought in niche or oldies artists to address Congress – not major popular current acts. The artists who have testified (who have included Judy Collins, Sam Moore, Lyle Lovett, and Alice Peacock) have argued that the additional income that they would receive from a performance royalty would supplement their incomes which, in some cases, has either never been great or has declined as the demand or ability to tour has declined. The argument is always made that the royalty will encourage musicians to produce their music – though it is rarely if ever claimed that music wouldn’t be made if the royalty is not adopted, as songs have been written and sung for time immemorial, well before any royalty existed, merely for the pleasure or to fulfill the need for self-expression. The question is not one of ensuring the availability of music, but instead it is one about who should get how much of whatever money is made, directly or indirectly, from the use of that music. 


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty Passes House Subcommittee – But It’s Not Done Yet