Noncommercial radio stations ignoring their FCC public file obligations should be expecting to enter into consent decrees at license renewal time obligating them to take formal steps to monitor compliance and submit information to the FCC on any issues that arise.  In the last few weeks, we have seen at least four such decrees announced by the FCC (e.g. here, here, and here) imposing such obligations in exchange for the grant of pending renewal applications.  In each consent decree, the FCC notes the hardships imposed by the pandemic, presumably suggesting that, had these been more ordinary times, the licensees would have faced steeper penalties.

The consent decrees themselves resemble the consent decrees entered into between the FCC and commercial broadcasters who have not adequately maintained the documents required to be in the political file that is part of each commercial station’s public inspection file (see our articles here and here).  The four recent consent decrees with the noncommercial broadcasters require that they take the following actions:

  • They must appoint a Compliance Officer – a senior manager who will report to the “Chief Executive Officer” or equivalent of the licensee. The Compliance Officer is responsible for making sure that the licensee observes all public file obligations and all terms of the consent decree.
  • Within 30 days, the licensee must adopt a Compliance Plan that includes:
    • A written Compliance Manual explaining all requirements of the public file rules and is distributed to all employees who deal with any aspect of the rules.
    • A training program must be conducted for all employees on their obligations under the public file rules.
  • A year after the effective date of the Consent Decree, the licensee must submit a Compliance Report to the FCC certifying its compliance with the rules and how it complied.
  • If in any instance, the licensee does not comply with the rules, it must report any instance of noncompliance to the FCC within 10 days of its discovery.

As we noted here in the case of a commercial broadcaster who did not comply with the terms of a consent decree, noncompliance can bring big penalties.
Continue Reading Noncommercial Stations – Don’t Forget Your Public File Obligations – The FCC is Watching!

Last week, the Radio Music License Committee (“RMLC” – see our article about the RMLC), filed a complaint in US District Court in Pennsylvania against SESAC, arguing that SESAC is a monopoly and should be treated like ASCAP and BMI.  RMLC is asking that SESAC be subject to an antitrust consent decree as are these two bigger collection societies. As we have written before, SESAC is not a non-profit organization like ASCAP and BMI, and is not subject to consent decrees like these other performing rights organizations (“PROs”). Instead, it is a private company, owned by venture funds which, up to now, has set its own prices for licenses subject only to negotiations with the rights holders. So what is this suit all about, and will broadcasters see any changes in SESAC licensing in the short-term? 

RMLC claims that SESAC, by effectively being the only way to license the public performance of compositions by thousands of different composers, effectively can get monopoly prices. Practically speaking, radio stations cannot individually license all the songs written by SESAC performers and, even if the stations were able to directly license some of the music from SESAC writers, SESAC still would not reduce their fees.  All SESAC licenses are blanket licenses that give stations the right to use all the music in the SESAC catalog, but are not reduced by any pro rata amount should any music be directly licensed. Thus, argues RMLC, stations cannot try to reduce their licensing liability through direct licenses with songwriters even if such deals could be negotiated.


Continue Reading RMLC Files Antitrust Suit Against SESAC – What Does It Mean For Broadcasters?

decision by a US District Court in New York was just released, setting the rates to be paid to ASCAP for the use of their composers’ music by Yahoo!, AOL and Real Networks.  The decision set the ASCAP rates at 2.5% of the revenues that were received by these services in connection with the music portions of their websites.  These rates were set by the Court, acting as a rate court under the antitrust consent decree that was originally imposed on ASCAP in 1941.  Under the Consent Decree, if a new service and ASCAP cannot voluntarily agree to a rate for the use of the compositions represented by ASCAP, the rates will be set by the rate court.  The Court explained that they used a "willing buyer, willing seller" model to determine the rates that parties would have negotiated in a marketplace transaction  – essentially the same standard used by the Copyright Royalty Board in setting the rates to be paid to SoundExchange for the use of sound recordings by non-interactive webcasters (see our post here for details of the CRB decision).  The ASCAP decision, if nothing else, is interesting for the contrasts between many of the underlying assumptions of the Court in this rate-setting proceeding and the assumptions used by the Copyright Royalty Board in setting sound recording royalty rates.

First, some basics on this decision.  ASCAP represents the composers of music (as do BMI and SESAC) in connection with the public performance of any composition.  This decision covered all performances of music by these services – not just Internet radio type services.  Thus, on-demand streams (where a listener can pick the music that he or she wants to hear), music videos, music in user-generated content, karaoke type uses, and music in the background of news or other video programming, are all covered by the rate set in this decision.  Note that the decision does not cover downloads, presumably based on a prior court decision that concluded that downloads do not involve a public performance (see our post here).  In contrast, the CRB decision covered the use of the "sound recording" – the song as actually recorded by a particular artist – and covers only "non-interactive services," essentially Internet radio services where users cannot pick the music that they will be hearing.


Continue Reading Rate Court Determines ASCAP Fees for Large Webcasters – Some Interesting Contrasts with The Copyright Royalty Board Decision