The new iPhone, connecting as it does to ATT’s high speed wireless network, has allowed Internet radio to go wireless.  While this has been possible on many platforms in the past, it has never been as easy, seamless, ubiquitous and as promoted as with the new iPhone.  The CBS radio  stations on AOL Radio, Pandora and Soma FM are all available, as are add-on applications that open the door to streaming many other Internet radio stations.  Tim Westergrin of Pandora  was quoted as stating that the iPhone would change people’s expectations of Internet radio, making it "a 360-degree solution – in the car, in the home, on the go."  But, as with any application that increases the audience of Internet radio, it comes with a cost, as the delivery of Internet radio by a mobile device, like a wireless phone, is subject to the same royalties established by the Copyright Royalty Board last year and currently in effect while on appeal – rates that are computed by the "performance," i.e. one song streamed to one listener (see our reminder on the per performance payment, here).

In the requests for reconsideration of last year’s CRB decision, SoundExchange had asked that the Board make clear that its decision applied to noninteractive streams (i.e. Internet radio) delivered to wireless devices like mobile phones.  In one of the few actions taken on reconsideration, the Board granted that request (see our summary of the reconsideration, here, and the CRB decision here).  Thus, services making their streams available to the iPhone (except for those covered under the special percentage of revenue offer that SoundExchange made to a limited class of small webcasters, and noncommercial webcasters under 159,140 aggregate tuning hours a month), must count performances and pay the per-performance royalties due to SoundExchange.

Continue Reading Internet Radio on the iPhone – Remember the CRB Royalties Apply

Broadcasters and other digital media companies have recently been focused on the royalties that are to be charged by the record labels for public performance of a sound recording in a digital transmission (under the Section 114 compulsory license administered by SoundExchange).  In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued this week, the Copyright Office tentatively concludes that there could be yet another royalty due for streaming – a royalty to be paid to music publishers for the reproductions of the musical compositions being made in the streaming process under Section 115 of the Copyright Act.  This notice was released just as the Copyright Royalty Board is concluding its proceeding to determine the rates that are to be paid for the Section 115 royalty.  While there have been reports of a settlement of some portions of that proceeding, the details of any settlement is not public, so whether it even contemplated noninteractive streaming as part of the agreement is unknown.

How did the Copyright Office reach its tentative conclusion?  First, some background.  The Office for years has been struggling with the question of just what the section 115 royalty covered.  Traditionally, the royalty was paid by record companies to the music publishers for rights to use the compositions in the pressing of records.  This was referred to as the "mechanical royalty" paid for the rights to reproduce and distribute the composition used in a making copies of a sound recording (a record, tape or CD).  These copies were referred to as "phonorecords."  However, in the digital world, things get more complicated, as there is not necessarily a tangible copy being made when there is a reproduction of a sound recording.  Thus, Congress came up with the concept of a Digital Phonorecord Delivery (a "DPD") as essentially the equivalent of the tangible phonorecord.  But just what is a DPD?

Continue Reading Copyright Office Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking That Could Make Section 115 Royalty Applicable to Internet Radio

We recently wrote about the challenge to appointment of the Copyright Royalty Board’s judges filed by Royalty Logic as part of the appeal of the Board’s decision on Internet Radio royalties.  Royalty Logic argued that the appointment of the Copyright Royalty Judges was improper, as the Librarian of Congress was not the "head of a department" who can appoint lesser government officials under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.  Thus, Royalty Logic contends that the decision reached by the Board as to Internet radio royalties was a nullity, as the Board effectively does not legally exist.  Earlier this week, the Board and SoundExchange filed their replies to the Royalty Logic motion, arguing that, in fact, the Librarian is the head of a department, as he is appointed by the President and approved by Congress and runs a government "department," i.e. the Library of Congress, of which the Copyright Office is a part.  In demonstrating that the Library is a department, the briefs reach back to the creation of the Library by Thomas Jefferson, and look at the legislative history of legislation modifying the powers of the Library and the process for the appointment of the Librarian – legislation passed in 1870 and 1897.  Essentially, the very technical argument about why the Board was not properly constituted was met with an equally technical one that says it was properly formed.  Clearly, arguments only lawyers could love.

While Royalty Logic will have the opportunity to respond, the litigation process continues on the main portion of the appeal, as SoundExchange filed its intervenor’s brief the week before last, defending the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board.  In one notable departure, SoundExchange, while contending that the Board was correct in determining the minimum fees that would be required of webcasters, it said that, because of the agreement that it reached with certain webcasters that would cap minimum fees at $50,000  no matter how many channels a service might have (see our discussion of the agreement here), it asked that the Court remand that one limited matter back to the Board for adoption of the limitation on minimum fees so that it would apply to all webcasters and not just those who signed the agreement.  In all other respects, SoundExchange opposed the briefs of the webcasters.

Continue Reading Yes We Do Exist – Claims Copyright Royalty Board

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

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

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

Under the compulsory license for the use of sound recordings – the license which allows Internet radio services to use all legally recorded sound recordings by paying a royalty set by the Copyright Royalty Board – the designated collection agency can, once each year, audit a licensee to assess its compliance with the royalty requirements.  Under the law, when the collective decides to audit a company, it must notify the Copyright Royalty Board, who then gives public notice of the fact that an audit is to take place.  The Copyright Royalty Board has just announced that SoundExchange has decided to audit Last.FM.  Based on a number of public statements, SoundExchange has been citing Last.FM as an example of problems with royalties – contending that Last.FM had paid royalties of only a couple of thousand dollars a year, under the Small Webcasters Settlement Act, just before selling out to CBS for over $200 million.  Given SoundExchange’s tough talk about Last.FM, this notice of an audit is not surprising.  SoundExchange’s focus on this company illustrates the difficulty of valuing music use, and the different perceptions of music users and copyright holders as to what that value should be.

 In past years, SoundExchange has audited a number of webcasters – usually large webcasters.  As SoundExchange must bear the cost of the audit unless a significant underpayment is discovered, it is unlikely that more than a few companies will be audited each year.  However, as SoundExchange has made such a big deal of Last.FM, with witnesses on performance royalty issues mentioning it at Congressional hearings, and representatives mentioning it on various industry conferences (including SoundExchange President John Simson’s reference to the company on a panel on which we jointly appeared at Canadian Music Week earlier this month), many expected that an audit would be forthcoming.

Continue Reading SoundExchange to Audit Internet Radio Royalty Payments of Last.FM – What is the Value of Music?

A full year ago, the Copyright Royalty Board released its decision setting royalties for the use of sound recordings by Internet Radio webcasters (see various posts on the subject here).  As an article this week in the Boston Globe sets out, despite much talk of a post-decision settlement to lower the royalties set by the CRB that many Internet Radio operators claim will put their stations out of business, no such settlement has yet been announced.  And, in a week that brought about the transfer of the operations of one of the largest webcaster’s operations to a traditional radio company (as CBS took over operations of AOL’s Internet Radio service), appeals of the decision were filed with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  A busy week, but still no resolution of the Internet radio controversy.

Four separate appeals briefs were submitted to the Court.  One was a combined brief of the large Webcasters (represented by DiMA, the Digital Media Association) and the Small Webcasters(Accuradio, Radioio, Digitally Imported Radio, Radio Paradise), another was submitted by several commercial broadcast groups (Bonneville, the NAB and the National Religious Broadcasters Association) and a third by several noncommercial groups (including college broadcasters, NPR, and noncommercial religious broadcasters).  A final brief was submitted by Royalty Logic, a company that wants to become an alternative to SoundExchange as the collection agent for performers.  These briefs will be answered by the Department of Justice (defending the CRB and its decision before the Court) and SoundExchange.  The briefing process will continue for several months, with an oral argument to follow, quite possibly not until the Fall.  Thus, a decision in the case may well not be reached until 2009. 

Continue Reading A Year After the Webcasting Royalty Decision – No Settlement, Appeal Briefs Filed

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board published an order seeking comments on a proposed settlement establishing the royalties for "Business Establishment Services."  Essentially, this is the royalty paid by a service which digitally delivers music to businesses to be played in stores, restaurants, retail establishments, offices and similar establishments (sometimes referred to as "background" or "elevator" music, though it comes in many formats and flavors, and may sometime include the rebroadcast of programming produced for other digital services).  The proposed settlement would essentially carry the current rates forward for the period 2009-2013.  These rates require the payment of 10% of a services revenue (essentially what they are paid by the businesses for the delivery of the music) with a minimum annual payment of $10,000.

Some might wonder how a royalty of 10% royalty can be justified – and why it shouldn’t set some sort of precedent for the Internet radio services about which we have written so much here.  Once again, as we’ve written before, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act sets different standards for different kinds of music use.  For many consumer-oriented services (like satellite radio, digital cable radio and Internet radio), there are different standards used to determine the royalty rate.  For Business Establishment Services, it’s not the standard that is different – it’s the royalty itself.  Under the DMCA, there is no performance royalty paid either by the business or the service provider.  Instead, under the statute, the royalty is paid only for the "ephemeral copies" – those transitory copies made in the digital transmission process.  That is different than the royalty for all of the other digital services, where fees are paid for both the performance (under Section 114 of the Copyright Act) and the ephemeral copies (under Section 112).

Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Requests Comments on Business Establishment Service Royalty Rate