FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced that he will be leaving the Commission on Tuesday as the new President is inaugurated, and thus will not be present at the FCC to set any last minute policy for the DTV transition.  In fact, if Martin had decided to stay for the end of the transition, he might well have had to stick around for a while, as there are bills making their way through Congress to delay the February 17 deadline for the transition to digital television.  Senator Rockefeller has introduced a bill that would extend the deadline to June 12, which Senate Republicans blocked last week, though it will reportedly be reintroduced this week.  At the same time, the three remaining Commissioners have all released letters that indicate that there are significant transition problems that need to be resolved before the transition deadline.  While there are those who wonder if the delay will really solve the problems that may exist – the movement is in the direction of a delay.

The letters from the Commissioners are most interesting.  First came a letter from Commissioner McDowell, not directed to Congress, but instead to Chairman Martin, publicly asking for information about the FCC’s DTV phone bank to answer questions from consumers about the transition.  According to the McDowell letter, he was unable to get information about the status of upgrades to the system to handle the expected influx of calls at the end of the transition.  McDowell also complained about calls that were not answered at all, or which had long wait times, when consumers called – wait times that often resulted in connections with a voicemail system.  And he raised questions about the failure of the phonebank to be open on weekends.  It has now been announced that IBM has been hired to man the phonebank, perhaps answering some of the questions Commissioner McDowell raised in his letter.


Continue Reading Kevin Martin Departs as Congress Looks at June 12 DTV Transition Deadline – While Remaining Commissioners Write Letters About Transition Problems

What a difference a few days makes.  At the beginning of this week, it was full speed ahead for the February 17 termination of analog television.  Then NTIA announced that it was out of money to pay for DTV coupons to assist the public in buying converter boxes so that analog TV sets will continue to work after the transition.  This action, in turn, caused Consumers Union to ask Congress for a delay in the transition, resulting in Congressman Markey’s office suggesting that the DTV transition might need to be delayed (as we wrote yesterday).  Today, the other shoe dropped as the Obama transition team formally wrote to Congress asking for a delay of the termination of analog television.  That letter leaves everyone asking – will Congress respond?  If so, what are the ramifications?

The NAB responded with a press release talking about how broadcasters are still prepared to meet the deadline, and how the deadline has focused all parties (TV stations, electronics manufacturers, cable and satellite companies) on doing what they need to do in order to be ready for the transition.  But the Obama team’s call for the postponement does not seem to be focused on the readiness of program providers to accomplish the switch, but instead on the readiness of viewers to deal with the new digital environment, especially given the lack of coupons for last minute shoppers still waiting to buy their converter boxes.  As we’ve written before, many in Washington are worried about the political ramifications of the transition – especially if millions of people wake up on February 18 and can’t watch the Today Show or Good Morning America.  And while that is a legitimate concern, one wonders if it will ever be possible to prepare everyone for the transition deadline.  Sure, if the deadline is postpone 4 or 5 months, there will be a marginal increase in people who are ready, but there will still be stragglers.  Catching up to them all may never happen until they are hit with the reality of their analog sets not working on the day after the transition, whenever that day may be.  If so, shouldn’t someone at least consider the costs that a delay will impose on broadcasters? 


Continue Reading Obama Transition Team Requests Delay of DTV Transition Deadline

The Webcaster Settlement Act, about which we write here, has been signed into law by President Bush, giving parties to the Internet Radio royalty dispute until February 15 to enter into a settlement and have it become effective, without the need for any public comment or any further government approvals.  Several recent articles have indicated that a settlement is close – for at least some of the webcasters.  In several recent statements, Tim Westergrin of Pandora has indicated that the webcasters in DiMA (the Digital Media Association), in their negotiations with SoundExchange and the record labels, were getting very close to results.  At a the Digital Music Conference held in Los Angeles last month, Jon Potter, the President of DiMA, seemed to echo that sentiment.  However, neither could state with absolute certainty when the deal would come, or what its terms would be, though in Westergrin’s comments at that conference, available here, he stated that webcasters probably would not be happy with the likely outcome of the settlement, implying that there would be a high rate that would be agreed to by the parties, though it would be one less than what the Copyright Royalty Board ordered (and one which would allow companies like his to survive).  However, he indicated that perhaps not all webcasters would be able to survive at the rate being discussed, and some might have to try to enter into their own agreements to fit other types of webcast operations.  In fact, the Webcasters Settlement Act is not limited to a single settlement, so various other parties who participated in the CRB proceeding – including broadcasters who stream their signals online, small commercial webcasters, and NPR and other noncommercial groups – could negotiate settlements as well, though there have not been any recent public statements that these negotiations were close to bearing fruit.

At a panel that I moderated at the CMJ Music Marathon later in October, which included a SoundExchange representative and a member of its Board, there was a suggestion that further settlements with groups other than DiMA might follow if and when the deal with the large webcasters is concluded.  This approach may make some sense as the copyright holders don’t want any deals that they cut with small webcasters or noncommercial parties that could affect their negotiations with larger webcasters, from whom the vast bulk of their revenues are derived.  Copyright holders naturally want to address the interests that will be the most lucrative.  However, this approach does put smaller parties, who are often most worried about potential liabilities and most sensitive to uncertainty, into a very uncomfortable position. As we’ve written before, the statutory license that is administered by SoundExchange was granted by Congress at least partially to make access to music possible, especially to smaller parties with little bargaining power and little ability to cut deals with thousands of copyright holders, which would be required without this license.  Yet these are the parties most in need of relief from the rates imposed by the Copyright Royalty Board, so we hope that the talks of future settlements in fact are accurate.


Continue Reading Is A Settlement on Internet Radio Royalties Near? Will All Webcasters Be Included and Will They Be Able to Afford It?

The appeals of last year’s Copyright Royalty Board decision on the royalties paid for the use of sound recordings by Internet radio stations continue on, and one recent filing raises interesting questions of whether or not the CRB was properly appointed.  Last week, the Department of Justice, which represents the CRB in defending its decision in the Court of Appeals, filed its brief in opposition to the briefs of the webcasters, which we summarized here.  The DOJ brief essentially argued that the webcasters’ briefs were insufficient to satisfy the requirement for a successful appeal – that the CRB decision was arbitrary and capricious or otherwise contrary to law.  Essentially, a Court need not revisit the decision and substitute its judgment as to whether the it believes that the decision was correct, but instead, to overturn a decision, the Court must find that the CRB (the expert agency) either violated the law or could not, on the fact, have logically come up with the decision that it did.  Thus, the DOJ brief made arguments that there was enough factual evidence for the CRB to decide in the way that it did, and made arguments that the webcasters had not offered contrary arguments or evidence on certain points during the CRB proceeding and were therefore barred from raising those arguments now.  Just before the DOJ brief was filed, another pleading raised the fundamental question of whether the Copyright Royalty Board was properly appointed and, if not, whether it has the constitutional authority to decide the cases that it has been considering.

This new argument about the CRB’s authority comes in a request filed with the Court of Appeals by Royalty Logic, a party to the CRB proceeding.  Royalty Logic is not a webcaster, but instead is seeking to be an alternative collection agency to SoundExchange.  Its pleading seeks supplemental briefing on the question of whether the Copyright Royalty Judges are “inferior officers” of the Federal government who, under the Constitution, can only be appointed by the President, by the Courts or by the head of a Department of the government. In a recent Supreme Court case, the Court found that certain tax court judges, who were appointed by a chief judge and not by a cabinet-level officer (the head of a “department”) violated this Appointments Clause of the Constitution. There has been much press coverage in the past few weeks as to whether this decision also applies to patent judges, and whether it could invalidate hundreds of patents approved by these judges (see the NY Times article on this issue, and listen to an NPR piece about the controversy). Royalty Logic contends that the same logic should apply to the appointment of the Copyright Royalty Judges who make up the CRB.  The Copyright Royalty Judges are appointed by the Librarian of Congress.  One question would be whether the Librarian is the equivalent to the head of a department though, technically, the Library of Congress is not even in the Executive Branch of government, but instead part of Congress.  In any event, Royalty Logic notes that the Copyright Royalty Tribunal, a predecessor agency done away with during the Clinton administration as part of their "Reinventing Government" program (one of the few agencies that was "reinvented"), had members appointed by the President.


Continue Reading Does the Copyright Royalty Board Exist – Internet Radio Appeal Proceeds and New Issues Arise

On Thursday, the FCC issued its Report on violent programming on television, finding that such programming has a negative impact on the well being of children, and suggesting that Congressional action to restrict and regulate such programming would be appropriate.  A summary of the findings of the Commission can be found in our firm’s bulletin on the Report, here.  As we point out in our bulletin, the Commission did not adopt this report with a united voice, as both Commissioner Adelstein and McDowell expressed concerns about the thoroughness of the report, the practicality and constitutionality of drawing lines between permitted and prohibited violence in programming, and even whether the government is the proper forum for restricting access to such programming or whether this isn’t fundamentally an issue of family and parental control. 

The Report suggests that legislative action to restrict violent programming  or to channel it to certain time periods might be appropriate as parents are often not home when children watch television, and technological controls, like the V-Chip, are ineffective as parents don’t know that they exist or, if they are aware of the existence of the controls, they don’t know how to activate them.  The Commission also suggests that the ratings given to programs are not always accurate.  An interesting alternate take can be found in an article in Slate, here, citing a study not mentioned by the FCC finding that parents, even when carefully educated about the V-Chip and its uses, do not use it.  This seems to indicate that parents are not as concerned about the issue as is the FCC, and suggests that the real motivation is not restricting what is presented to children, but instead what is available to adults.


Continue Reading Violence on Television – FCC Issues Report Suggesting That Congressional Action Is Appropriate