Dave Oxenford this week conducted a seminar on legal issues facing broadcasters in their digital media efforts.  The seminar was organized by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, and originated before a group of broadcasters in Lansing, but was webcast live to broadcasters in ten other states.  Dave addressed a variety of legal issues for broadcasters in connection with their website operations and other digital media platforms.  These issues included a discussion of service marks and copyrights, employment matters, music on websites, the use of social media, privacy, and sponsorship disclosure.  The slides used in the Lansing presentation are available here.    During the seminar, Dave also mentioned that stations with websites featuring user-generated content, to help insulate themselves from copyright infringement that might occur in the content posted to their website by their audience, should take advantage of the registration with the Copyright Office that may provide safe harbor protection if a station follows the rules and takes down offending content when identified by a copyright holder.  The Copyright Office instructions for registration can be found here.   

One of the most common issues that arise with radio station websites is the streaming of their programming.  In August, Dave gave a presentation to the Texas Association of Broadcasters providing  a step-by-step guide to streaming issues, with a summary of the royalty rates paid by different types of streaming companies.  That summary to Internet Radio issues is available here.  Additional information about use of music on the Internet can be found in Davis Wright Tremaine’s Guide to The Basics of Music Licensing in a Digital Age.   Dave also presented this seminar at the Connecticut Broadcasters Association’s Annual Convention in Hartford on October 14.


Continue Reading David Oxenford Conducts Webinar for State Broadcast Associations on Legal Issues in the Digital Media World – Including a Discussion of Ephemeral Copies of Sound Recordings

An interview with FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has just been released by Broadcasting and Cable magazine.  In that interview, the Chairman confirms press reports (which we cited here) that there is a planned FCC Notice of Inquiry to look into the news media in the digital world – the first public confirmation of this

In light of the recent decision upholding the FCC’s right to sanction licensees for violations of the FCC’s Indecency rules for "fleeting expletives" in the Golden Globes and Billboard music awards, i.e. isolated profanity on the airwaves, the Supreme Court also remanded the Janet Jackson case to the Court of Appeals.  The one sentence remand (see page 2 of the list of orders) was so that the Court of Appeals could consider the impact of the fleeting expletives case on the Court of Appeals decision throwing out the FCC’s fine on CBS for the fleeting glimpse of Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl half-time program.  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals that heard the Janet Jackson case had reached a decision very similar to the Second Circuit’s decision in the Golden Globes case – finding that the FCC had not justified its departure from a policy of not fining stations for fleeting instances of prohibited speech or pictures, where the words or pictures were isolated and their broadcast was not planned by the station.  Given that the Supreme Court has remanded the case to the Court of Appeals, the lower court will now need to consider the same constitutional issue that the Second Circuit will consider in the Golden Globes case – while the FCC may not have violated administrative procedures in justifying its actions, are the FCC’s indecency rules so vague and enforced in such a haphazard manner that they chill free speech or are otherwise unconstitutional?  Based on an analysis of the various concurring and dissenting opinions in the Golden Globes case, the Supreme Court might well decide the constitutionality issue against the FCC.  Could the final ruling in these cases have an impact far beyond the indecency question?

Two of the Davis Wright Tremaine attorneys involved in some of the indecency cases have written this memo, summarizing the Supreme Court decision in the Golden Globes case – pointing out how Justice Thomas seemed to imply that the constitutional basis of the FCC decision was suspect – even though he sided with the majority in finding that the FCC was justified in its administrative decision to find violations.  Justice Thomas seems ready to come down against the FCC on the constitutional issue were it to be squarely presented, questioning whether the Red Lion decision, justifying lesser First Amendment protections for broadcasters than other media outlets based on frequency scarcity, has continuing vitality.  Were this precept underlying the regulation of broadcast content to be undermined, the justification for much FCC content regulation could be in doubt.


Continue Reading Janet Jackson Case Sent Back to Court of Appeals – Could There Be An Even Greater Impact on Broadcast Regulation?

I just finished speaking on a panel at the Radio Ink Convergence ’09 conference in San Jose.  My panel was called "The Distribution Dilemma: Opportunities, Partnership and Landmines."  As the legal representative, my role was, of course, to talk about the landmines.  And one occurred to me in the middle of the panel when a representative of Ibiquity, the HD Radio people, about one of the opportunities available for the multicast channels available in that system, where an FM radio operator can, on one FM station, send out two or three different digital signals.  The particular opportunity that was discussed was the ability to bring in outside programmers to program the digital channels, specifically talking about a recent deal where a broadcaster had entered into a deal with a company that would be brokering a digital channel in major markets, and programming that station with a format directed to the Asian communities.  Broadcasters are generally familiar with the fact that, when they broker their traditional analog broadcast station to a third party, the licensee remains responsible for the content that is delivered in that brokered programming – e.g. making sure that there are no payola, indecency, lottery or other legal issues that pop up in that brokered programming.  Broadcasters need to remember that that same responsibility applies to multicast streams, whether they are on HD radio or on a multicast stream broadcast by a digital television station.  These stream are over-the-air broadcast channels subject to all FCC programming rules.

Foreign language programming has traditionally presented programming issues for broadcasters.  In the 1970s and 1980s, there were multiple cases where broadcasters actually lost licenses because there was illegal activity taking place in brokered programming.  In these cases, the programming contained illegal content and the licensee had no way to monitor the content of the programs as the licensee had no one on staff who spoke the language in which the programming was produced.  The FCC basically said that the licensee had the responsibility to be able to monitor all programming broadcast on its station – so they had abdicated their responsibility to keep the station in compliance with FCC rules by not knowing what was being said in the brokered programming.


Continue Reading Caution on Multicast Streams – Remember It’s Still Over-the-Air Broadcasting

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing this week on the Future of the Internet, dealing principally with the issue of net neutrality – whether Internet Service Providers treat all content carried through their facilities equally.  This issue principally involves questions of whether ISPs can charge big bandwidth users for their content to be transmitted through the ISPs facilities, or to be transmitted at preferred speeds.  The testimony of Chairman Martin at the hearing raised several issues – issues both about what he said and what some reports perceived him to say.  Some reports had him saying that the FCC did not need to regulate indecency on the Internet – though I never heard that question asked. But he did say that he did not have trouble with ISPs blocking illegal content such as child pornography and illegal file-sharing, which raises the question of whether some might look to ISPs to become copyright police – blocking access to material that does not have copyright clearances.  And, with the hearing being held on the same day as a media company purchased a company that can identify copyrighted material by reviewing that content when transmitted on the Internet – is that possibility coming closer to being a reality?

In recent weeks, there have been several trade press reports about government regulation of indecency on the Internet.  I’ve seen at least two trade press reports on Chairman Martin’s testimony before the Commerce Committee, claiming that he said that no government regulation of indecency on the Internet was necessary.  I did not hear any reference to indecency regulation in his testimony (a written version of his statement is available here, and you can watch the entire testimony, here).  Instead, that testimony was about whether Congress needed to pass laws to allow the Commission to enforce its net neutrality principles.  Nonetheless, the press seems to believe that Internet indecency is an issue which might be targeted by regulation.  A recent study finding that the majority of Americans think that FCC regulation of indecency should be extended to the Internet has also been cited in several reports.  However, despite the seeming interest in regulation of the Internet, there are serious constitutional concerns about any such regulation.  In fact, as we wrote here, numerous attempts to regulate indecency on the Internet have been overturned by the Courts on constitutional grounds, as the government could make no showing that the regulations were the least restrictive means for restricting access to adult content.


Continue Reading Indecency and Copyright Enforcement by ISPs? – Questions From the Net Neutrality Hearings

Website operators who allow the posting of user-generated content on their sites enjoy broad immunity from legal liability.  This includes immunity from copyright violations if the site owner registers with the Copyright Office, does not encourage the copyright violations and takes down infringing content upon receiving notice from a copyright owner (see our post here for more information).  There is also broad immunity from liability for other legal violations that may occur within user-generated content.  In a recent case, involving the website Roommates.com, the US Court of Appeals determined that the immunity is broad, but not unlimited if the site is set up so as to elicit the improper conduct.  A memo from attorneys in various Davis Wright Tremaine offices, which can be found here, provides details of the Roommates.com case and its implications.

In the case, suit was filed against the company, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, as the site had pull-down menus which allowed users to identify their sex, sexual orientation, and whether or not they had children.  Including any of this information in a housing advertisement can lead to liability under the law.  The Court found that, if this information had been volunteered by users acting on their own, the site owner would have no liability.  But because the site had the drop-down menus that prompted the answers that were prohibited under the law, liability was found.


Continue Reading Court Affirms Website Owner’s Insulation from Liability for User-Generated Content – If the Website Does Not Contribute to the Liability

Website operators planning to allow visitors to post their own "user generated content" can, for the most part, take solace that they will not be held liable for third-party posts if they meet certain criteria.  The Communications Decency Act provides protection against liability for torts (including libel, slander and other forms of defamation) for website operators for third-party content posted on their site.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides protection against copyright infringement claims for the user-generated content, if the site owner observes certain "safe harbor" provisions set out by the law.  The requirements for protection under these statutes, and other cautions for website operators, are set out in detail in our firm’s First Amendment Law Letter, which can be found here.

 As detailed in the Law Letter, the Communications Decency Act has been very broadly applied to protect the operator of a website from liability for the content of the postings of third parties.  Only recently have courts begun to chip away at those protections, finding liability in cases where it appeared that the website operator in effect asked for the offending content – as in a case where the owner of a roommate-finder site gave users a questionnaire that specifically prompted them to indicate a racial preference for a roommate – something which offends the Fair Housing Act.  However, as set forth in the Law Letter, absent such a specific prompt for offending information, the protections afforded by this statute still appear quite broad.


Continue Reading Avoiding Liability for Websites that Post User Generated Content

Last week, House Commerce and Energy Committee Chairman John Dingell reportedly stated that he favored the return of the Fairness Doctrine, and couldn’t see why broadcasters would be opposed.  We’ve suggested reasons, here and here.  But the reports are that Congressman Dingell may try to move legislation to accomplish the return of the Doctrine later this year.