While Copyright Royalty Board decisions on royalties for webcasters, Sirius XM and mechanical royalties get most of the attention, the CRB also sets rates paid by “business establishment services” for the “ephemeral copies” made in their music businesses. Business establishment services are the companies that provide music to businesses to play in retail stores, restaurants and other commercial establishments. These services have come a long way from the elevator music that once was so derided – and now set the mood in all sorts of businesses with formats as varied as the commercial businesses themselves.  While the rates paid by these services pay for music rights is a little off-topic for this blog, these rates are a bit unusual, so they are worth mentioning.  The Copyright Royalty Board just announced a proposed settlement between the services that were participating in the CRB case and SoundExchange which will raise the rates gradually from the current 12.5% of revenue to 13.5% over the next 5 years, with a minimum annual fee of $20,000, up from $10,000. These rates, which apply to any company that does not negotiate direct royalties with the sound recording copyright holders, go into effect in 2019 and will be in place through 2023. Comments on these proposed rates are due June 18, though CRB rules limit the consideration of comments from those who were not participants in the proceeding.

We have written about the rates paid by these services before (see for instance our articles here, here and here).  What makes them unusual is that the royalties are not paid to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings, as are the royalties paid by other digital music services including webcasters (here and here) or Sirius XM.  That is because, in adopting Section 114 of the Copyright Act, Congress did not want to impose on businesses a new performance right, as there is no general public performance right in sound recordings in the United States.  Businesses and other services that do not digitally transmit performances of audio recordings have no obligation to pay copyright holders in the sound recordings (usually the record companies) or artists for the public performance of music.  Users do, however, pay fees for the public performance of the underlying composition through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC and GMR.  As we wrote here, the Register of Copyrights has suggested that a general public performance right in sound recordings be paid in the United States. But that would impose new fees on all businesses that use recorded music in the US, from stadiums playing “We Will Rock You” at the appropriate point in a big game, to DJs spinning their discs in nightclubs, to the trendy tunes playing in the hip clothing retail stores, to over-the-air radio. This proposal is therefore very controversial.  So, if they are not paying public performance fees, why do background music services have to pay SoundExchange?
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Early this month, the Copyright Royalty Board announced that it will be starting a new proceeding to set the royalty rates to be paid by “business establishment services” for the rights to make ephemeral copies of sound recordings. The rates will apply for the period 2019-2023. Interested parties must file a Petition to

The NAB has announced agreements with Sony and Warner Music Groups to waive certain of the statutory requirements for broadcasters who stream their over-the-air signals on the Internet.  The NAB had entered into similar agreements with all of the major labels and major independent labels back in 2009 (see our summary here).  But those agreements expired at the end of 2015, giving rise to fears among some broadcasters that some standard broadcast programming could not be streamed on the Internet (see our article here about those concerns).  These agreements, at least as to Sony and Warner, mitigate those fears.  This article provides a summary of some of the most important aspects of the new waivers.

These waivers cover requirements set forth in the Copyright Act which broadcasters, especially those who stream, may have difficulty meeting.  Generally, the waivers provide the following:

  • Relief from the statutory requirements as to “ephemeral copies” of sound recordings that require that such recordings can be kept for no longer than 6 months.  If that rule was to be applied strictly, stations that make a copy of a sound recording in furtherance of their streaming (or for their over-the-air broadcasts), by for instance making a copy of a song so that it can be stored in their digital music storage systems, could keep those copies for only 6 months.  After that time, the station would be required to delete any copy of a song and re-record it if they wanted to keep a copy in their music library for another six months.
  • The agreements waive the performance complement, which would otherwise limit a station that is streaming its signal from playing more than 2 songs from the same CD or album in a row, or playing more than 3 songs in a row from the same artist, or from playing more than 4 songs from the same artist (or from the same box set) in a 3-hour period.  The waivers allow stations to exceed these limits, only if they continue to play music in a manner consistent with normal broadcast operations.  However, even with the waiver, no station can play more than half an album consecutively.
  • The waivers allow stations to announce upcoming artists, only if they don’t announce the specific times that specific songs will be played.
  • The waivers allow some relief from the obligation that a broadcaster streaming their on-air programming on the Internet identify in text on their website or mobile app the name of the song that is playing, the artist who performs the song, and the album from which that song is taken.  That relief is limited to circumstances where, from time to time, a station can’t easily provide such textual information.


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Business Establishment Services” are copyright-speak for those music services that provide background music to commercial establishments.  These services have come a long way from the elevator music that once was so derided – and now set the mood in everything from retail clothing stores to restaurants to department stores with formats as varied as the commercial businesses themselves.  While the rates paid by these services pay for music rights is a little off-topic for this blog, these rates are a bit unusual, so they are worth mentioning.  The Copyright Royalty Board just announced the adoption of a settlement between services and SoundExchange which will raise the rates from the current 10% of revenue to 12.5%, with a minimum annual fee of $10,000, effective January 1.

We have written about the rates paid by these services before (see for instance our articles here and here).  What makes them unusual is that the royalties are not paid to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings, as are the royalties paid by other digital music services including webcasters or Sirius XM.  That is because, in adopting Section 114 of the Copyright Act, Congress did not want to impose on businesses a new performance right, as there is no general public performance right in sound recordings in the United States.  Businesses and other services that do not digitally transmit performances of audio recordings have no obligation to pay copyright holders in the sound recordings (usually the record companies) or artists for the public performance of music.  Users do, however, pay fees for the public performance of the underlying composition through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.  As we wrote here, the Register of Copyrights has suggested that a general public performance right in sound recordings be paid in the United States, but as that would impose new fees on all businesses that use recorded music in the US, from stadiums playing “We Will Rock You” at the appropriate point in a big game, to DJs spinning their discs in nightclubs, to the trendy tunes playing in the hip clothing retail stores, to over-the-air radio – this proposal is very controversial.  So, if they are not paying public performance fees, why do background music services have to pay SoundExchange?
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No one ever claimed that music royalties are easy to understand, especially in the digital age when nice, neat definitions that had grown up over many years in the physical world no longer necessarily make sense. The complexity of the world of digital music licensing is clear from many sources, but the Commerce Department’s “Green Paper” on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy does a good job discussing many of the music royalty issues that have arisen in the last 20 years that make copyright so confusing for professionals, and pretty much incomprehensible for those not immersed in the intricacies of copyright law on a regular basis. The Green Paper discusses some of the issues in music policy that make this area so confusing, and highlights where interested parties and lawmakers should focus their efforts to reform current rules to make them workable in the digital age. The Paper also discusses other areas of copyright policy that we will try to address in other articles.  You can find the Green Paper here (though note that it is about 120 pages and will take some time to download).

One of the most controversial issues that it addresses is the concept of a general performance right for sound recordings. As did Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante in the speech we summarized here, the Commerce Department puts the current administration on record as supporting the creation of such a right – a right that has not existed in the United States, except for a limited sound recording performance royalty for performances by digital audio companies like webcasters (see our summary of the royalty rates paid by different types of Internet Radio services here) and satellite radio (see our summary of the royalties to be paid by Sirius XM under the most recent Copyright Royalty Board decision). While the most controversial aspect of the creation of a broad sound recording performance royalty has been in connection with the extension of that royalty to broadcasters, the adoption of a general royalty, as advocated by the Green Paper would extend payment obligations to others who publicly perform sound recordings – including bars, restaurants, stadiums and other retail establishments.


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The Copyright Royalty Board has just announced that it is accepting petitions to participate in the next proceeding to set the royalty rates to be paid for the ephemeral copies made by "business establishment services" in connection with any digital transmission of sound recordings.  Business establishment services are essentially background music services who

The Copyright Office last week issued its Report to Congress on pre-1972 sound recordings (with an Executive Summary), addressing whether to bring these recordings under Federal law.  As we wrote last year when the Copyright Office solicited comments on the issues raised by this report, sound recordings (i.e. aural recordings embodied in some fixed form like a CD, record or digital file) created in the United States prior to 1972 are not protected under Federal copyright law.  Instead, any protections accorded to these sound recordings are under state laws.  Congress, at the request of a number of archivist and music library groups, asked that the Copyright Office review the issues that would be raised by bringing these sound recordings under Federal law.  Some archivists and librarians feared that, in preserving old recordings, they could run afoul of state copyright laws, and that a unified set of rules under Federal law might be easier to follow.  Why is this issue more broadly important to the music community?  For internet radio station operators, it is because the proposals to Federalize all such recordings could have an impact on digital performance royalties (as there does not appear to be any public performance right in sound recordings under state laws and, under current law, these recordings would not be covered under the SoundExchange royalties that most noninteractive services play).  The Report is also significant in that it raises questions about copyright laws dealing with user-generated content, specifically whether the DMCA safe harbor provisions protecting the operators of Internet service companies from copyright liability for the content posted by third parties apply to pre-1972 sound recordings.

This is only a report to Congress, and such reports have no binding impact.  Instead, they merely set out the position of the authors of the report from the Copyright Office.  Such reports are also cited as evidence in court cases as to what the Office believes the current state of the law to be.  The Office has written a number of reports over the years making suggestions about how copyrights should be administered and, given the complexity of copyright law and the competing interests affected by any revisions to the laws, many of their proposals have never been implemented.  This report suggests that pre-1972 sound recordings be brought under Federal laws.  Specifically, the report suggests that current copyright holders get protection for most pre-1972 works until 2067 (when state law protections are to run out under the current law, allowing the works to move into the public domain).  The protections would be accorded to works that are used by the copyright holder (sold at some reasonable price) and registered with the Copyright Office at some point after a law implementing its proposals became effective.  Works from prior to 1923 would be subject to a similar use and registration process, but would only get 25 years of additional protection.  Seemingly, protections for works that are not registered would pass into the public domain after the applicable registration period expires.  For some webcasting companies, this change could have an immediate impact.


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Broadcasters beware – podcasts with music may be dangerous to your economic health.  In recent weeks, I’ve come upon more than one incident where a broadcaster was providing podcasts containing music on their website, or allowing listeners to download or stream on-demand some new, hot song.  I’ve even seen certain articles in the trade press advocating that stations do podcasts of their morning shows, or otherwise provide some sort of programming containing music on their websites in a manner in which the listener can listen over and over again to the same program or song.  Broadcasters need to know that they are asking for trouble when they provide services like podcasts, downloads and on-demand streams containing music without getting specific permission from copyright holders to do so, as these uses are not covered by the SoundExchange royalties paid for webcasting, nor (in most cases) by your ASCAP, BMI and SESAC royalties.  

The royalties paid to SoundExchange are for the right to publicly perform sound recordings in a noninteractive manner.  In other words, they only cover streams where the user cannot get a specific song when they want it, and where listeners do not know the order in which songs will be played.  ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (the "PROs") also cover public performances, but of the underlying musical compositions (the words and music of the song, as opposed to its recording by a particular singer or band).  By contrast, “podcasts,” ( and here I mean an on-demand program that can be downloaded onto a digital device for later replay, and which can also usually be played immediately on someone’s computer) are much like downloads – and involve a different right in music – the right to reproduce and distribute the music.  The rights of reproduction and distribution are different from the public performance right, and the permission to make reproductions and distributions are granted by different groups than are the public performance right.  SoundExchange and the PROs have nothing to do with granting this reproduction and distribution right (with the limited exception of ephemeral rights in streaming granted through the SoundExchange royalty – a concept too technical to be discussed here, and one that does not affect this warning.  But, if you are interested in these rights, you can see our article that discussed ephemeral rights in a bit more detail, here).  Podcasts, downloads and on-demand streams require a specific grant of rights from the copyright holders of the sound recordings and the musical compositions for each piece of music that is being used. 


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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.


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As we have written, by April 2, broadcasters who are streaming need to file with SoundExchange a written election in order to take advantage of the SoundExchange-NAB settlement.  For broadcasters who make the election, the settlement agreement will set Internet radio royalty rates through 2015.  One aspect of this agreement that has not received much attention is the waiver from the major record labels of certain aspects of the performance complement that dictates how webcasters can use music and remain within the limits of the statutory license.  When Section 114 of the Copyright Act, the section that created the performance royalty in sound recordings, was first written in the 1990s, there were limits placed on the number of songs from the same CD that could be played in a row, or within a three hour period, as well as limits on the pre-announcing of when songs were played.  These limits were placed seemingly to make it more difficult for listeners to copy songs, or for Internet radio stations to become a substitute for music sales.  In conjunction with the NAB-SoundExchange settlement, certain aspects of these rules were waived by the 4 major record labels and by A2IM, the association representing most of the major independent labels.  These waivers which, for antitrust reasons, were entered into with each label independently, have not been published in the Federal Register or elsewhere.  But I have had the opportunity to review these agreements and, as broadcasters will get the benefit of the agreements, I can provide some information about the provisions of those agreements.

First, it is important to note that each of the 5 agreements is slightly different.  In particular, one has slightly more restrictive terms on a few issues.  To prevent having to review each song that a station is playing to determine which label it is on, and which restrictions apply, it seems to me that a station has to live up to the most restrictive of the terms.  In particular, the agreements generally provide for a waiver of the requirement that stations have in text, on their website, the name of the song, album and artist of a song that is being streamed, so that the listener can easily identify the song.  While most of the labels have agreed to waive that requirement for broadcasters – one label has agreed to waive only the requirement that the album name be identified in text – thus still requiring that the song and artist name be provided.  To me, no station is going to go to the trouble of providing that information for only the songs of one label – so effectively this sets the floor for identifying all songs played by the station and streamed on the Internet.


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