Deciding how to pay music royalties has always been difficult – trying to figure out what permissions are necessary, who has the rights to grant such permission, and how much the rights will cost. The one place where the rights were fairly simple – paying for the right to publicly perform musical compositions – may be getting more difficult. According to an article in the New York Post, Pandora may be getting a taste of that new reality, having to pay significantly more money to Sony ATV music publishers than it had previously paid for that same music when it was licensed by ASCAP and BMI

The rights to publicly perform musical compositions had until very recently been relatively straightforward. All a broadcaster, digital media company or other music user needed to do was to pay ASCAP, BMI and SESAC royalties (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are often referred to as the PROs, or Performing Rights Organizations) – and the music service essentially had the rights to publicly perform virtually all the musical compositions in the world. And ASCAP and BMI were covered by antitrust decrees – so their rates were more or less known for most categories of music use – only subject to a rate court hearing once every now and then when these collection societies could not come to an agreement with the members of a particular class of music users. While SESAC is not subject to the antitrust consent decrees, and not necessarily as easy to deal with, most music services figured out a way to cut a deal with the society too.

Continue Reading Pandora Enters Settlement to Pay For Public Performance of Sony/ATV Musical Works – What’s Its Impact on Licensing for Music Services and Rights Holders?

The FCC just issued a Report to Congress concerning the access of television viewers to in-state television stations.  This report was requested by Congress as part of STELA (the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act), which extended the compulsory license for direct to home satellite television operators (DISH and DirecTV) – a license which gives them copyright clearances to retransmit all the programming transmitted by the broadcast television stations that they make available as part of their service packages.  Congress also requested a Report from the Copyright Office on the need for the compulsory license – a report also issued this week, which we will write about in another article.  The issue of access to in-state television stations has been a controversial issue, as several Congressmen have sought (and in a few cases actually received) legislative authority for cable providers to carry out-of-market television stations on cable systems serving areas in one state that are part of television markets where the television stations come from a different state.  The report refers to these areas as "orphan counties."  Once legislative authority was granted in one state, many other bills popped up in Congress trying for the same relief in their state – causing concern that the existing television markets (or Designated Market Areas or "DMAs", designated by the Nielsen Company) might be undermined.  To see what impact such changes would have, Congress requested this report from the FCC.

The report for the most part does not make recommendations, but instead simply provides information about the service provided to US television viewers, the potential options for bringing an in-state service to all viewers, and the issues that such proposals would raise. Perhaps the most interesting fact revealed by the report is that 99.98% of all US television households already have access to an in-state television station, either over-the-air or through a Multichannel Video Programming Distributor (e.g. cable or satellite TV system), so this is a very isolated issue.  However,when the FCC sought comments on the issues discussed in the report, a number of individuals in particular DMAs responded about situations where they could not get access to in-state television stations and asked that something be done.  The report assesses the implications of any action that could be taken.

Continue Reading FCC Issues Report to Congress on Access to In-State Television Programming

Just as webcasters thought that they had their royalty obligations figured out, there comes news that the already complicated world of digital media royalties may well become more complicated.  Last week, EMI, which in addition to being a record label is a significant music publishing company, has reportedly decided to withdraw portions of its publishing catalog from ASCAP – which had been licensing the public performance of these songs. The withdrawal from ASCAP applies only to "New Media" licensing.  What is the impact?  As of today, webcasters pay ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the rights to play virtually the entire universe of "musical compositions" or "musical works" (the words and musics of the song).  By withdrawing from ASCAP, EMI will now license its musical compositions itself, adding one more place that webcasters will need to go to get all the rights necessary to play music on an Internet radio type of service.  In addition to royalties paid for the musical composition, webcasters also pay SoundExchange for public performance rights to the sound recordings (the song as recorded by a particular singer or band) – and by paying this one organization, they get rights to perform all sound recordings legally released in the US.   But any Internet radio operation needs both the musical composition (except for those compositions that have fallen into the public domain) and the sound recording performance rights cleared before they can legally play the music.

The news reports quote EMI as talking about the efficiencies that will be created by its licensing the musical compositions directly – in conjunction with the licensing of other rights – like the rights to make reproductions of its compositions, or the rights to publicly perform sound recordings to which its record label holds the copyright. But the whole idea of a performing rights organization with collective licensing is that it provides to digital music services the efficiencies offered by a one-stop shop for the purchase of rights to all a very large set of musical compositions.  Up to now, a digital music service knew that, by entering into licensing agreements with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (the "performing rights organizations, or "PROs"), it had rights to virtually all the musical compositions that it would normally use (i.e. they received a "blanket license").  If these rights are balkanized, so that each significant publisher licenses their own music, the webcaster will have to make multiple stops to license all the music they need – which always leads to confusion.  The more places they have to go to license music, the more possibility that they will overlook a necessary rightsholder.  But there is even a bigger potential issue for webcasters – price.

Continue Reading Another Royalty Payment for Webcasters? EMI Withdraws From ASCAP For New Media Licensing

As our colleague Brian Hurh wrote recently on our sister blog, the www.broadbandlawadvisor.com, a federal district court last week granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the mere retransmission of broadcast television programs over the Internet, without more.  The order is not only important for its confirmation of a 2008 Copyright Office decision rejecting Internet retransmission of video

According to British press reports, Warner Music’s CEO Edger Bronfman Jr. stated that it will cease making its music available to advertising supported streaming music sites.  This has prompted some questions about how this decision would affect services such as Pandora, Slacker, Accuradio and other Internet radio companies – would it deny them access to substantial amounts of music?  In fact, as these US services operate under a "statutory license", created by Congress, they get access to  all legally recorded music in exchange for the payment of a royalty established by the Copyright Royalty Board.  Essentially, under this statutory license (otherwise known as a "compulsory license"), a copyright holder cannot deny access to companies operating under the license, as long as those companies comply with terms of the license, and pay the established royalty.  Thus, even if the Warner Music decision really is true, this decision should have little or no impact on US Internet Radio stations operating under the compulsory license.

What would it affect?  Presumably it could hurt services that don’t rely on the statutory license.  Internet Radio operators who want to rely on the statutory license must meet a set of requirements set out by statute in order to qualify for the license.  We’ve written about those obligations before here, in connection with the waiver of some of these requirements in the royalty settlement between SoundExchange and the NAB.  Services operating under the license must meet the "statutory complement", meaning that they cannot play more songs from an artist or CD in a given time period than allowed by the law, specifically:

  • No more than 3 songs in a row by the same artist
  • Not more than 4 songs by same artist in a 3 hour period
  • No more than 2 songs from same CD in a row

In addition, Section 114 of the Copyright Act sets out other limitations on a service operating under the statutory license.  The service must provide the name of the artist, song and CD in text on its site, to the extent technically possible, while the song is playing.  There are also certain restrictions about tying the music being played to commercial content on the site, and requiring that sites take steps to prevent digital piracy.  And, most importantly, the service cannot be "interactive."

Continue Reading Warner Music Says No More Music for Streaming – What’s It Mean for US Webcasters?

Under the compulsory license for the use of sound recordings – the license which allows Internet radio services to use all legally recorded sound recordings by paying a royalty set by the Copyright Royalty Board – the designated collection agency can, once each year, audit a licensee to assess its compliance with the royalty requirements.  Under the law, when the collective decides to audit a company, it must notify the Copyright Royalty Board, who then gives public notice of the fact that an audit is to take place.  The Copyright Royalty Board has just announced that SoundExchange has decided to audit Last.FM.  Based on a number of public statements, SoundExchange has been citing Last.FM as an example of problems with royalties – contending that Last.FM had paid royalties of only a couple of thousand dollars a year, under the Small Webcasters Settlement Act, just before selling out to CBS for over $200 million.  Given SoundExchange’s tough talk about Last.FM, this notice of an audit is not surprising.  SoundExchange’s focus on this company illustrates the difficulty of valuing music use, and the different perceptions of music users and copyright holders as to what that value should be.

 In past years, SoundExchange has audited a number of webcasters – usually large webcasters.  As SoundExchange must bear the cost of the audit unless a significant underpayment is discovered, it is unlikely that more than a few companies will be audited each year.  However, as SoundExchange has made such a big deal of Last.FM, with witnesses on performance royalty issues mentioning it at Congressional hearings, and representatives mentioning it on various industry conferences (including SoundExchange President John Simson’s reference to the company on a panel on which we jointly appeared at Canadian Music Week earlier this month), many expected that an audit would be forthcoming.

Continue Reading SoundExchange to Audit Internet Radio Royalty Payments of Last.FM – What is the Value of Music?