copyright royalty board

The Copyright Royalty Board yesterday published in the Federal Register the proposed rates for the public performance of musical compositions by noncommercial broadcasters for the period 2023 through 2027.  The rates reflect settlements between ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR with various organizations representing noncommercial broadcasters. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting agreed to one set of rates paid to cover NPR and PBS affiliates. The NRB (the religious broadcasters’ organization) has a Noncommercial Music License Committee that agreed to another set of rates that apply to non-NPR radio stations not owned by colleges and universities, setting out rates that these noncommercial stations pay to each of these rights collection agencies. For these radio stations, the rates are based on the population served by each noncommercial station. College and university-owned stations can take advantage of a third set of rates, based primarily on the number of students in the school with which the station is affiliated.  Comments and objections, if any, to these proposed rates are due on or before February 27, 2023.

Commercial broadcasters have royalty rates that are to be paid to these performing rights organizations (or “PROs”) set not through the Copyright Royalty Board but instead through varying processes.  ASCAP and BMI are subject to antitrust consent decrees (see our articles here and here on arguments about those decrees).  The decrees provide that, if the PRO cannot reach an agreement with representatives of the commercial radio industry (usually the Radio Music License Committee – see our article on RMLC here – although commercial religious broadcasters also negotiate rates with these entities through the NRB), a US District Court judge in New York will hold a trial, acting as a “rate court” to determine the amount for reasonable rates.  ASCAP and BMI are currently negotiating with the RMLC on new rates for commercial broadcasters.  SESAC is also subject to antitrust settlements with both the RMLC and the TV Music License Committee.  If SESAC and the committees cannot reach agreements, an arbitration panel sets the rates (see our articles here and here on radio rates set as a result of this process).  After prolonged litigation with GMR to have their rates reviewed in some manner, the RMLC last year dropped its lawsuit seeking that relief and GMR now has no oversight as to the rates it charges (see our article on the GMR license that resulted).  Noncommercial broadcasting, however, under Section 118 of the Copyright Act, has its PRO obligations set by the Copyright Royalty Board and, like this year, the result is almost always a settlement between the parties (even though, theoretically, the Board could hold hearings to set the rates if the parties had not agreed to the rates). 

Continue Reading CRB Releases Proposed ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR Rates for Noncommercial Broadcasters

Royalties paid for the use of music by broadcasters and digital media companies, and other issues about music rights, can be an incredibly dense subject, with nuances that can be overlooked.  I participated in a CLE webinar earlier this week, sponsored by the Federal Communications Bar Association, where we tried to demystify some of the issues in music licensing (see description here).  I moderated a panel on the Hot Topics in Music Licensing, talking about the broadcast performance royalty, the appeal of the webcasting royalty decision, issues about the proliferation of performing rights organizations seeking royalties for the public performance of musical compositions, and more theoretical issues about the entire process of clearing music for use by broadcasters and other businesses.  To highlight some of the issues, and some of the tensions in the world of music royalties, I put together the attached article.  Hopefully, it provides some context on the relationship between some of these hot topics, and gives some food for thought as to how these issues can be addressed. 

As 2023 begins, our “Hot Topics” panel will look at some of the current legal and policy issues in music licensing that may be relevant to the communications industry.  Most of the issues we will discuss are ones that have been debated, in one form or another, in copyright circles for decades.  But, as copyright can be so complicated with many stakeholders with differing interests, the chances of any final resolution to any of these issues may well be small.  This article is meant to put some of those debates in context, as many of the specific issues, in one way or another, are intertwined. 

The issue that likely will be the most contentious this year (and has been for decades) is the continuing effort of the recording industry to establish a public performance right in sound recordings that would apply to non-digital performances.  For over 25 years, recording artists and the record labels (which usually hold the copyrights to popular recordings) have had a right to a performance royalty for digital performances.  Broadcasters who stream an online simulcast of their programming, along with webcasters and others who make non-interactive digital transmissions, must pay a performance royalty, generally to SoundExchange.  The rates to be paid are set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  But in the US, over-the-air broadcasters, restaurants, bars, clubs, retail establishments, and others who publicly perform music pay only for the performance of the musical compositions (the “musical work”), not for the performance of the song as recorded by a particular artist (the “sound recording”).  That has been a point of contention for a century, almost from the moment when recorded music first appeared, but the issue has become particularly heated in the last two decades, once the sound recording public performance right was established after being mandated by copyright legislation in the late 1990s.

Continue Reading  An Overview of the Hot Policy Topics in Music Licensing

In a very busy week, here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Federal Trade Commission and seven state Attorneys General announced a settlement with Google LLC and iHeart Media, Inc. over allegations that iHeart radio stations aired thousands of deceptive endorsements for Google Pixel 4 phones by radio personalities who had never used the phone.  The FTC’s complaint alleges that in 2019, Google hired iHeart and 11 other radio broadcast companies to have their on-air personalities record and broadcast endorsements of the Pixel 4 phone, but did not provide the on-air personalities with the phone that they were endorsing.  Google provided scripts for the on-air personalities to record, which included lines such as “It’s my favorite phone camera out there” and “I’ve been taking studio-like photos of everything,” despite these DJs never having used the phone.  The deceptive endorsements aired over 28,000 times across ten major markets from October 2019 to March 2020.  As part of the settlement, subject to approval by the courts, Google will pay approximately $9 million and iHeart will pay approximately $400,000 to the states that were part of the agreement.  The settlement also imposes substantial paperwork and administrative burdens by requiring both companies to submit annual compliance reports for a period of years (10 years in the case of iHeart), and create and retain financial and other records (in the case of iHeart, the records must be created for a period of ten years and retained for five years).
    • This case is a reminder that stations must ensure that their on-air talent have at least some familiarity with any product they endorse, particularly where on-air scripts suggest that they have actually used the product.  Stations should not assume that talent know the relevant rules – they more likely will just read whatever is handed to them without understanding the potential legal risk for the station, which, as demonstrated in this case, could be significant.


Continue Reading This Week in Regulation for Broadcasters: November 26 to December 2 , 2022

In a Federal Register notice published today, the Copyright Royalty Board announced cost-of-living increases in the statutory royalties paid by webcasters for the public performance of sound recordings.  These are the royalties paid to SoundExchange by those making noninteractive digital transmissions of sound recordings.  This included broadcasters who simulcast their over-the-air programming on the internet or through mobile apps (or through other digital means including smart speakers like Alexa, see our article here).  The CRB notice sets out the computations that the Board used to determine the amount of the cost-of-living increase.  Those computations led to a royalty rate for 2023 of $.0024 per performance for services that do not charge a subscription fee.  For subscription services, the rate will be $.0030 per performance.  A performance is one song played to one listener – so for one song paid to four listeners one time each, a webcaster pays about a penny.

Given the rate of inflation in the general economy, it is perhaps no surprise that the rates for 2023 represent a substantial increase from the royalties paid last year, and from those that were in place in 2021, the first year of the current 5-year royalty period.  As we wrote here, when the CRB decided on the rates for 2021-2025, the nonsubscription rate was $.0021 per performance.  But the CRB provided for cost of living increases.  That led to rates in 2022 for commercial webcasters, including broadcasters streaming their programming on the internet, of $.0022 per performance for a nonsubscription transmission and $.0028 per performance for a subscription transmission (see our article here mentioning the 2022 increase).
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Announces Cost-of-Living Increase for 2023 Webcasting Royalties – Including Royalties for Broadcasters Who Simulcast Their Programming Online

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past  week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

A new Chief Copyright Royalty Judge of the Copyright Royalty Board has just been named by the Librarian of Congress.  According to the Press Release announcing his appointment, David Shaw will fill that position after having previously served as an administrative law judge on the International Trade Commission for over 10 years.  There, he heard complex cases dealing with detailed financial matters – experience that sounds relevant to the kinds of cases he will be deciding on the CRB.  The Copyright Royalty Judges decide cases determining the marketplace value of music when  setting royalty rates, and that look at the relative value of programming when deciding the distribution of cable royalties to program copyright holders.  In addition to ITC experience, Shaw was a judge at the Social Security Administration and, according to his biography, worked in the General Counsel’s office at NPR early in his career.  With the appointment of this new Chief Judge, we thought that it would be worth looking at some of the specific areas in which the CRB makes decisions that affect media companies.

The CRB is principally charged with rates and distributions for copyrights governed by a “statutory licenses.”  A statutory license is created by Congress when it is believed that individual negotiations between copyright holders and copyright users would either be unduly complex so as to be almost unworkable or where an efficient market would not otherwise exist.  Essentially, the statutory license means that the copyright owner must license the work that they own – they cannot restrict its use – if the user pays the royalties set by law or established by the CRB and abides by the conditions for use set out in the law.  See our article here about music statutory licenses and our articles here and here on some of the issues with the TV statutory licenses.  The conditions of use are often carefully restricted so as to only cover very specific uses under the statutory license (see our article here on the conditions placed on the use of music under the statutory license for webcasting – the public performance right for sound recordings used by noninteractive services discussed below).

Continue Reading New Copyright Royalty Board Chief Judge Named – Looking at the Issues Considered by the CRB of Importance to Media Companies

Last week, we discussed the controversy started by Neil Young removing his music from Spotify because of its carriage of Joe Rogan’s podcast.  In that article, we looked at the relationship between music royalties and the decision of Spotify and other music services to emphasize podcasts and other talk programming over music.  Today, we will look at how music rights and royalties impact decisions like those of Neil Young and other musicians who may have wanted to pull their music to support the protest over Rogan’s podcast.

At its most basic level, there is the question of how much the artists themselves stand to lose from the withdrawal of their music from a service like Spotify.  Young himself said that he would lose 60% of his streaming revenue from pulling his music, which one source estimated to be over $700,000.  Given the other streaming services that now exist, his music is still available and generating revenue on his catalog, though apparently less than the amount generated by Spotify.  The 60% number in and of itself is interesting as, while artists and other music representatives complain about the Spotify per song payouts (likely because they offer a free, ad-supported tier with lower payouts than those from subscription services), the wider variety of services offered by Spotify seem to bring in big numbers of listeners – likely including many who would not subscribe to a pay-music service. Thus, because of the sheer numbers of listeners, and assuming that Young is representative of other artists, Spotify is responsible for the majority of the streaming revenue that has allowed the music industry to enjoy in recent years some of their most profitable years ever.  Even with these banner payouts, as we noted in our article on the Spotify side of the equation, the music industry is still not satisfied, recently calling the payouts “appallingly low.”  More on that issue in an upcoming post on the discussions of a US broadcast radio sound recording performance royalty.
Continue Reading Spotify, Joe Rogan and Neil Young – Looking at the Rights and Royalty Issues Behind the Story (Part 2 – The Rights of the Artists to Pull Their Music)

As 2021 wound down, there were significant developments on SoundExchange royalties for webcasters – including broadcasters who simulcast their on-air programming through IP channels (such as on their websites and on mobile apps).  While we covered many of these matters in our weekly Sunday updates on regulatory matters of importance to broadcasters, we thought that it would be worth summarizing all of the action in one place.  Most, but not all, of these developments follow from last year’s  Copyright Royalty Board decision  raising webcasting rates for 2021-2025 (see our article here summarizing that decision).

The CRB’s decision was published in the Federal Register in October 2021.  As of that date, all webcasters, if they had not already been doing so, should be paying the higher royalties ($.0021 per song per listener in 2021 for nonsubscription streams).    SoundExchange has appealed the CRB’s decision (presumably to argue the rates should have been set even higher), as have the NAB and the National Religious Broadcasters Noncommercial Music License Committee.  These appeals are pending and likely will be briefed and argued sometime in 2022.  If you have not trued up your payments (the increase in royalties was retroactive to January 1, 2021), consult your legal advisor as to the effect that these appeals may have on your responsibility for that true-up.
Continue Reading A Look at Developments in SoundExchange Webcasting Royalties (Including for Broadcast Simulcasts) From the End of 2021

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the last week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • The Copyright Royalty Board (CRB) released its long-awaited decision on streaming royalties for 2021-2025, finding that the rates applicable to

The Copyright Royalty Board decision on the rates to be paid in the next 5 years by webcasters, including broadcasters who simulcast their programming on the internet, to SoundExchange for the digital public performance of sound recordings is supposed to be released by June 14.  These royalties are collected by SoundExchange from noninteractive webcasters (see our articles here, here and here on the difference between interactive and non-interactive webcasters) and are distributed to the artists who perform on recordings and to the copyright holders of those recordings – usually the record labels.  The CRB sets these rates in 5-year increments.  The rates at issue in the current proceeding are for 2021-2025.  As we wrote here and here, these rates would normally have been determined before the end of the last rate period at the end of 2020 but, as the trial to determine the rates was postponed by the pandemic, the CRB has been given to June 14 to announce the new royalties, presumably to be made retroactive to January 1.

The proposals made in this proceeding vary widely.  SoundExchange and its associated record labels are arguing that the rates should substantially increase, from their current level of $.0018 per performance (per song per listener – see our article here) for nonsubscription streams to rates of $.0028 per performance for 2021, with cost of living increases each succeeding year.  For subscription webcasting, SoundExchange proposes that the rates increase from $.0024 to $.0031.  In these cases, each party makes arguments as to what a willing buyer and willing seller would pay in a marketplace transaction for such rights.  The parties introduce expert witnesses to testify as to what that rate would be, usually by looking at other similar marketplace transactions.  To arrive at its proposed rates, SoundExchange introduced experts who looked at the market price for the use of music by interactive services.  These prices are set by direct negotiations.  From those prices, the experts attempted to calculate an appropriate adjustment to remove the value of the interactivity to determine the rates that a noninteractive service would pay.  This proposed increase in royalties was, of course, countered by representatives of the services who will pay the royalties to SoundExchange.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Webcasting Royalties Expected by June 14 – What Will the Streaming Rates for 2021-2025 Be?