copyright royalty board appeal

The US Court of Appeals today released a decision upholding the Copyright Royalty Board’s 2015 decision setting the SoundExchange royalty rates for 2016-2020. We wrote about that decision here, and provided more details here. In any appeal of an agency decision, the Court routinely affords the agency deference in reaching its decision. The Court will not overturn that decision unless it has no basis in the record developed on the matter before the agency, or unless the agency decision was arbitrary and capricious – in plain English, the agency did not reach a logical conclusion based on the facts before it. That means that the Courts will not overturn a decision just because the agency might have logically reached another decision – but instead it will only intervene where the agency came to a conclusion that could not be logically supported. In this case, no reason to overturn the CRB decision was found.

SoundExchange on appeal had attacked the CRB decision on several grounds – arguing that several defects led to an inappropriate decision as to the rates that would have been determined by a “willing buyer and willing seller” in a marketplace, the standard to be used by the CRB in setting rates. SoundExchange attacked the benchmarks that were relied on by the CRB to set the rates (the direct licensing deals on royalties arrived at between webcasters Pandora and iHeart Media and various record companies) arguing that these rates were too low as they were negotiated in the “shadow of the statutory license.” They argued that the only direct deals that could have been done were ones that were lower than the rates established by the CRB during the prior rate term, as no music service would agree to higher rates. Arguments were also raised that these rates relied on “steering” – the prospect that labels who agreed to the rates had songs played more frequently than those that did not agree to lower rates. SoundExchange argued that not all labels could take advantage of steering (as a label can only get the benefit of steering when a service is playing less of the music of labels that did not pay for steering). The appeals also challenged the determination that a qualified auditor to check royalty compliance had to be a CPA licensed in the state where the audit was conducted.
Continue Reading Court of Appeals Upholds Copyright Royalty Board’s 2015 Webcasting Royalty Rate Decision

SoundExchange last week filed an appeal of the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision on webcasting royalties (a decision which we summarized here and here), as reported by a number of trade press articles. Most of these press reports did not note that this was not the only appeal filed. At least two other parties, IBS (Intercollegiate Broadcasting System – representing college and high school broadcasters) and the NRB-NMLC (National Religious Broadcasters Noncommercial Music License Committee – representing noncommercial religious broadcasters) also filed notices of appeal. So what is next now that these appeals have been filed?

The Notices of Appeal that were just submitted to the US Court of Appeals are just “notice” documents – filed to give notice to the other parties, the CRB and the court that these parties will pursue an appeal as they think that the CRB decision was not justified. No detail as to the substance of the appeal need be submitted at this time. Those details will be advanced when the parties file briefs setting out the specifics of their arguments challenging the CRB decision. The exact date for the submission of those briefs won’t be set for months, when the case makes its way onto the Courts docketing schedule. So don’t expect briefs to be filed until the Fall, with an oral argument before the Court to follow. The arguments are simply ones where lawyers for the parties get up before a three-judge panel and make brief presentations about the legal issues involved in the case (and answer the questions of the Judges). No new evidence is taken – at this point the proceeding is just one between lawyers, arguing as to whether the CRB decision was justified. What does the Court review?
Continue Reading Appeals Filed of Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Webcasting Royalties – What’s Next?

The Copyright Royalty Board Decision on the royalty rates to be paid for the public performance of sound recordings by Internet radio companies – webcasting royalties – was published in the Federal Register today. We wrote about that decision setting the royalties here and here. The publication in the Federal Register gives parties to the proceeding 30 days in which to file an appeal of the decision. Appeals are heard by the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC.

While we have written about some issues with the decision raised by small webcasters about there not being a percentage of revenue royalty, as that issue was not raised before the CRB as no small webcasters participated, that is not an issue that the Court will consider – as the Court looks to whether the decision was arbitrary and capricious based on the evidence adduced at trial, or whether the decision was without substantial evidence in the record. It is focused on what was argued at trial, rather than what was not. Similarly, the issues about the performance complement waivers for broadcasters, which we also wrote about in the same article, are statutory issues that need to be addressed by waivers from copyright holders, not by a court appeal. Noncommercial groups have also expressed disappointment in the decision.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Webcasting Royalty Decision Published in the Federal Register – Appeals Due in 30 Days

A decision by the US Court of Appeals on the appeal of the Copyright Royalty Board decision as to the Sirius XM and Music Choice royalties for the public performance of sound recordings is one of the many year-end decisions important to broadcasters and digital media companies that seems to be flooding out from Courts and agencies in DC and elsewhere. The Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of SoundExchange, which was arguing that the royalties for both services should have been set higher by the CRB, and the Court also rejected the appeal of Music Choice, which argued that the royalties that were set by the CRB should have been lower.  We wrote about the CRB’s decision, here, when it was initially released about 2 years ago.

The proceeding involved the Preexisting Subscription Services (“PSS”) and the Preexisting Satellite Digital Audio Services (“SDARS”), services that were singled out when Congress adopted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998 by applying a different standard to those services for use by the CRB in determining the amount of sound recording performance royalties.  Instead of using the “willing buyer, willing seller” standard that applies to webcasters and any other digital music service that was not in existence in 1998, these services are evaluated under the 801(b) standard of the Copyright Act, which looks at a variety of factors including the market rate expressed by the willing buyer willing seller standard, but also at the relative financial contributions of the parties to bringing the music to the public, and the effect of royalty changes on the stability of the industries involved (see our articles here, here and here about the differences between these standards)  Using this 801(b) standard, most observers believe that royalties have been set at rates lower than have prevailed in the cases involving services subject the willing buyer willing seller standard.
Continue Reading Court of Appeals Upholds Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Sirius XM and Music Choice Royalties

Last year’s Court of Appeals decision on Internet radio royalties for 2006-2010 remanded one issue to the Copyright Royalty Board for further consideration – the issue of the minimum annual fee to be paid by each webcaster. The Copyright Royalty Judges (“CRJs”) had decided on a $500 per channel minimum fee – a fee that created much concern in the Internet radio community as there was no clear delineation of what a channel was. For services, like Pandora, where there is a unique stream created for each listener, by some definitions there could be an almost infinite number of channels all subject to the $500 minimum fee. Following the CRB’s initial decision, a number of the larger webcasters and SoundExchange entered into a settlement capping the minimum fee obligation at $50,000 per webcaster per year. Thus, services with more than 100 channels would only pay a minimum fee of $50,000 at the beginning of each year. However, this settlement was never extended to all webcasters – it applied only to those webcasters who signed the deal.  Following the Court remand, SoundExchange and DiMA (the Digital Media Association which represents many webcasters), submitted the 2007 settlement to the CRB to be codified into the rules that govern webcasters generally. Just before Christmas, the CRJs asked for comments on that settlement. Comments are due by January 22. 

In many cases, this settlement has been superseded by subsequent events – namely the settlements with webcasters that were entered into in February and then later in the summer under the provisions of the Webcaster Settlement Acts. Settlements with broadcasters, pureplay webcasters, small commercial webcasters and various noncommercial groups all set their own minimum fees (and, for the most part, cover the periods through 2015), and thus this proceeding is largely irrelevant to these webcasters. If this settlement is approved, the only remaining question before the CRJs on the remand of the 2006-2010 proceeding will be the minimum fee for some noncommercial groups that did not enter into any settlement, as this agreement on minimum fees applies only to commercial webcasters.


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Sets Comment Date on Internet Radio Minimum Fee Settlement

In the last 5 days, the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC has held two oral arguments on appeals from decisions of the Copyright Royalty Board – one from the Board’s decision on Internet Radio Royalties and the other on the royalties applicable to satellite radio.  The decisions were different in that, in the Internet Radio decision, the appellants (including the group known as the "Small Commercial Webcasters" that I represented in the case) challenged the Board’s decision, arguing that the rates that were arrived at were too high.  In contrast, at the second argument, SoundExchange was the appellant, arguing that the Board’s decision set royalties for satellite radio  that were too low.  But, in both arguments, an overriding question was whether the Judges on the CRB were constitutionally appointed and thus whether any decisions of the Board had any validity.  While the question was expected and specifically raised in the webcasting proceeding (see our post here when that issue was first raised), the discussion at the satellite radio argument was somewhat of a surprise, as the issue had not been raised by either party, and the Appeals Court judges were not even the same judges who had heard the Internet radio argument.  Yet one of the Judges raised the issue, unprompted by any party, by asking if the Copyright Royalty Judges were properly appointed and indirectly asking if their decision would have any validity if the constitutional issue was found to exist.

Will the Court decide the constitutionality issue, and what would it mean?  No one knows for sure.  One of the issues raised by the Court in the Internet radio case was whether the issue had been raised in a timely fashion.  In both cases, the possibility of requiring additional briefing on the issue was also raised by the Court, though no such briefing has been ordered – yet.  Even if the Court was to find that the Board was not properly appointed, there are questions as to whether the existing decisions should nevertheless be allowed to stand, while blocking new decisions until a new appointment scheme is found.  Alternatively, Congress might have to intervene to resolve the whole issue and, if it was to do that, would Congress simply ratify the current decision, or would there be new considerations that would affect any Congressional resolution?  The issue raises many questions, and we’ll just have to wait to see what the resolution will be.


Continue Reading Two Court of Appeals Arguments on Sound Recording Music Royalty Rates – And the Real Question is Whether the Copyright Royalty Board is Constitutional