In one of those year-end decisions that got lost in the holiday rush, in late November, the Copyright Royalty Board issued its final ruling on the rates to be paid to SoundExchange by “business establishment services” for the ephemeral copies of sound recordings when these music services transmit programming to their customers. We wrote about the CRB’s proposal to adopt these rules in May of last year, and our comments on the decision remain relevant to explaining this order. A slightly revised version of our May post follows.

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 in May 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, went into effect on January 1, 2019 and will be in place through 2023.
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This week brings news that a Virginia broadcaster has brought suit to have a court declare that broadcasters who stream their signal on the Internet, but limit the reception of the signal to within 150 miles of their transmitter site, should not have to pay royalties to SoundExchange.  As we have written before, when Congress adopted the digital performance royalty for sound recordings in the late 1990s, there was an absolute exemption from the sound recording performance royalty for broadcast transmissions, embodied in Section 114(d)(1)(A).  That exemption is not limited by the 150 mile rule.  However, there is another section of the law, Section 114(d)(1)(B), that also exempted from royalty payments retransmissions of broadcast transmissions.  The law exempted from the 150 mile limit those retransmissions done by other broadcast stations.  Thus, FM translators, for instance, can rebroadcast their primary station beyond the 150 mile rule without triggering a sound recording performance royalty.  So what was the section on the 150 mile zone for retransmissions intended to cover?

This issue was raised back in the early days of webcasting, when questions were raised as to whether simulcasting of broadcast transmissions were covered by the 150 mile rule.  There was some thought that it was in the early days of Internet radio.  In the first webcasting decision (the one conducted by a Copyright Arbitration Panel – or CARP, before the Copyright Royalty Board came into existence), evidence was cited that Yahoo! Music, growing out of Mark Cuban’s Braodcast.com which built its business on the retransmission of broadcast station’s over-the-air signals, had set up its royalty structure negotiated with the record labels to take into account that broadcast simulcasts would be exempt.  But the Librarian of Congress issued a ruling rejecting that premise for a number of reasons.  See the decision here.  These included that, because Internet retransmissions of broadcast signals could not be geographically limited, they could not be encompassed within the 150 mile exception of 114(d)(1)(B).  The Librarian read the exception as encompassing only retransmissions that could be limited to being wholly within the 150 mile zone.  The Librarian also looked at Section 112, and did not find a similar exception in that section which grants a statutory license for the ephemeral copies made in certain transmissions, and thought that such an exemption would be necessary for the retransmission of broadcast signals on the Internet. (We have discussed ephemeral rights before, see e.g. here and here). There the issue sat until the case filed last week.
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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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The Copyright Royalty Board has announced the royalties that will be paid for the public performance of sound recordings by Sirius XM for the period 2013-2017. The decision also covers the "Preexisting Subscription Services", i.e. Music Choice in connection with its cable radio service delivered with listener’s cable television packages. The full text of the decision is not released yet, as the parties have an opportunity to request that certain portions be redacted to protect private business and competitive information. The parties can request such redactions through December 19, so the decision may be Christmas reading for many. However, the Board did announce the rates as follows:

Section 112 Rates: The Judges adopted the Parties’ Stipulation regarding the rates and terms for the Section 112 rates, which will require a minimum fee advance payment of $100,000 per year, with royalties accruing during the year recoupable against the advance. The parties agreed that the value of the royalties allocated to the Section 112 license holders is 5% of the total royalty obligation, with the remaining 95% going to the Section 114 license holders.

Section 114 Rates: The Judges determined that the appropriate Section 114(f)(1) rates for Preexisting Subscription Services for 2013-2017 are 8% of Gross Revenues for 2013 and 8.5% for 2014 through 2017.

The Judges determined that the appropriate Section 114(f)(1) rates for Preexisting Satellite Digital Audio Radio Services for 2013-2017 are 9% of Gross Revenues for 2013, 9.5% for 2014, 10.0% for 2015, 10.5% for 2016 and 11.0% for 2017.

Both decisions represent modest, incremental raises in the current rates (see the description of the last CRB decisions on satellite radio rates here, and on cable radio here).  These decisions are made under the 801(b) factors, from Section 801(b) of the Copyright Act, that Internet radio currently is seeking, through the Internet Radio Fairness Act ("IRFA"), to have applied to the decisions as to the royalties paid by webcasters (see our summary here). We will not know how the standard was applied in reaching the decision to raise rates, and what guidance this decision provides for webcasters and their rates, until the full decision is released (see our summary of the arguments of the parties in this case, here).


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The NAB Radio Board today voted to adopt a Terms Sheet to offer to the musicFirst Coalition which, if agreed to by musicFirst and adopted by Congress, will settle the contentious issue of whether to impose a sound recording performance royalty (the "performance tax") on over-the-air broadcasters.  If adopted, that will mean that broadcasters in the United States, for the first time, will pay a royalty to artists and record labels, in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC that go to the composers of the music.  What does the Term Sheet provide, and what will this mean for broadcasters, webcasters and others who pay music royalties?

The Term Sheet sets out a number of points, including the following:

  • A 1% of gross revenue sound recording royalty to be paid to SoundExchange
  • A phase-in period for the 1% royalty, that will be tied to the number of mobile phones that contain an FM chip.  A royalty of one-quarter of one percent would take effect immediately upon the effective date of the legislation adopting it.  The royalty would rise in proportion to the number of mobile phones with enabled FM chips.  Once the percentage of phones with FM chips reached 75%, the full royalty would take effect.
  • The 1% royalty could only be changed by Congressional action.
  • The royalty would be lower for noncommercial stations and stations with less than $1.25 million in revenue – from a flat $5000 for stations making between $500,000 and $1.25 million in revenue down to $100 for those making less than $50,000 per year.
  • Broadcasters would also get a reduction in their streaming rates – but only when FM chips in mobile phones exceed 50% penetration.  The reduction would be tied to the rates paid by "pureplay webcasters" (see our summary of the Pureplay webcasters deal here), but would be set at a level significantly higher than pureplay webcasters, rising from $.001775 in 2011 (if FM chips were quickly deployed) to $.0021575.
  • Future streaming royalties would not be set by the Copyright Royalty Board but by a legislatively ordered rate court – presumably a US District Court similar to that which hears royalty disputes for ASCAP and BMI.
  • An acknowledgment by AFTRA that broadcasters can stream their signal on the Internet in their entirety – apparently agreeing to relieve broadcasters from any liability for the additional amounts due to union artists when commercials featuring union talent are streamed
  • An agreement that broadcasters can directly license music from artists and reduce their  liability for the new royalty by the percentage of music that the broadcasters is able to directly license
  • Agreements to "fix" issues in Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act in making the provisions of these laws regarding ephemeral copies and the performance complement consistent with the waivers that major record labels gave to broadcasters when the NAB reached its settlement with SoundExchange on streaming royalties last year.  See our post here on the provisions of those waivers.
  • musicFirst would need to acknowledge the promotional effect of radio in promoting new music, and would need to work with radio in attempting to secure legislation mandating the FM chip in mobile phones.

[Clarification – 10/26/2010 – Upon a close reading of the Terms Sheet, it looks like the phase in of the 1% royalty and the delay in the streaming discount only kick in if Congress does not mandate active FM chips in cell phones.  If the mandate is enacted, then the full 1% royalty and streaming discount is effective immediately. Given the opposition of much of the wireless industry to a mandated FM chip, this may represent a recognition that the legislation requiring the active FM chip will not be enacted in the near future]

What does this all mean?


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The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today issued a decision basically upholding the royalty rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board due under Section 114 of the Copyright Act by satellite radio operators for the public performance of sound recordings.  The CRB decision, setting royalties for the years of 2007 to 2012, established rates that grew from 6% to 8% over the six year term. As we explained in our post, here, the Board looked at the the public interest factors set out by Section 801(b) of the Copyright Act, factors not applicable to Internet Radio royalties, in reaching the determination these royalties.  Particularly important was the factor which took into account the potential impact of the royalties on the stability of the businesses that would be subject to the royalty, resulting in a reduction of the perceived fair market value of the royalty from what the board determined to be about 13% of gross revenues to the 6-8% final royalty set by the Board.  The Court upheld the Board’s reasoning, rejecting SoundExchange’s challenge to the decision, though the Court did remand the case to the Board to decide the proper allocation of the royalty to the ephemeral rights covered by Section 112 of the Copyright Act.

What was perhaps most interesting about the Court’s decision was the concurring opinion of one of the three Judges, who stated that the fact that the Board’s judges were appointed by the Librarian of Congress, and not by the President, "raises a serious constitutional issue."   This was the same issue raised by Royalty Logic in challenging the constitutionality of the CRB in the webcasting proceeding (see our posts here and here).  The Judge concurred in the majority decision as none of the parties to the satellite radio case raised the constitutional issue, but this very question was squarely raised in the webcasting proceeding, and thus may well be resolved in the decision on that appeal.


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