With 2008 almost upon us, webcasters streaming music on the Internet need to remember that the way of computing and paying royalties to SoundExchange will shift on January 1- a change that may be especially important for broadcast stations.  Under the Copyright Royalty Board decision reached last March, webcasters must pay royalties computed on a per "performance" basis.  A performance is a per song, per listener computation.  In other words, if an Internet radio station plays a song and 15 listeners are logged into the station at the time that the song plays, there would be 15 performances on which the royalty would need to be paid.  While broadcasters objected that they did not (and in many cases could not) track the number of performances that were made by their stations on the Internet, the CRB, on reconsideration of their initial decision, only went so far as the give stations an interim rate based on the number of  "Aggregate tuning hours" that a station served (e.g. one listener listening for one hour, or two for a half hour each would both be the equivalent of one aggregate tuning hour).   See our post, here, on the CRB’s reconsideration decision.  The aggregate tuning hour (or ATH) metric is one that is more readily obtain from a content delivery network or other bandwidth provider, and a metric that has been used since the first royalties were established in 2002.  Yet as of January 1, as the interim ATH rate applied only to 2006 and 2007, that method of payment will no longer be available, and many webcasters are wondering what to do to compute the per performance royalty.

Neither the CRB decision nor SoundExchange, which collects the royalties, explained what a webcaster who cannot count performances is to do when the option to pay based on aggregate tuning hours disappears.   The royalty for January performances is due to be paid to SoundExchange on March 16 (45 days after the end of the month), and a webcaster preparing to file its royalty statement on that day will need to have a performance count to include on its statement.  Many Internet radio companies have been trying to determine how to count performances and, while there are some services that offer to provide software to do so, it is my understanding that none are foolproof and, in some cases, they may not be able to get a complete count of performances.  And many smaller stations may not be able to afford such systems.

Continue Reading Internet Radio Reminder – No More Aggregate Tuning Hour Royalty After January 1

In a pre-Christmas surprise that most broadcasters could do without, identical bills were introduced in Congress on Tuesday proposing to impose a performance royalty on the use of sound recordings by terrestrial radio stations.  Currently, broadcasters pay only for the right to use the composition (to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) and do not pay for the use of sound recordings in their over-the-air operations of the actual recording.  This long-expected bill (see our coverage of the Congressional hearing this summer where the bill was discussed) will no doubt fuel new debate over the need and justification for this new fee, 50% of which would go to the copyright holder of the sound recording (usually the record label) and 50% to the artists (45% to the featured artist and 5% to background musicians).  The proponents of the bill have contended that it is necessary to achieve fairness, as digital music services pay such a fee.  To ease the shock of the transition, the bill proposes flat fees for small and noncommercial broadcasters – fees which themselves undercut the notion of fairness, as they are far lower than fees for comparable digital services.   

While, at the time that this post was written, a complete text of the decision does not seem to be online, a summary can be found on the website of Senator Leahy, one of the bills cosponsors.  The summary states that commercial radio stations with revenues of less than $1.25 million (supposedly over 70% of all radio stations) would pay a flat $5000 per station fee.  Noncommercial stations would pay a flat $1000 annual fee.  The bill also suggests that the fee not affect the amount paid to composers under current rules – so it would be one that would be absorbed by the broadcaster. 

Continue Reading Bill Seeking Broadcast Performance Royalty Introduced In Congress

The US Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia has set the briefing dates on the appeal filed by various webcasting groups seeking review of the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board setting Internet radio royalties for the period 2006-2010 for the use of sound recordings (see our coverage of this controversy here, and

The Copyright Royalty Board today announced that it is taking comments on a settlement to establish royalties for the use of sound recordings to be paid by companies that are planning to provide audio services to be delivered with satellite and cable programming.  In contrast to the "preexisting subscription services" who were in existence at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, who recently reached a settlement agreeing to pay 7 to 7.5% of gross revenues for royalties (see our post, here), this settlement is with "New Subscription Services" which did not offer these kinds of subscription services in 1998.  This settlement does not apply to subscription services provided through the Internet.  The covered "new subscription services" have agreed to pay the greater of 15% of revenue or a per subscriber fee that will escalate over the 5 years that the agreement is in effect.  Given that these new services will be providing essentially the same service as the Preexisting Services, why the difference in rate?  Perhaps, it is because the difference in the law.

As we wrote earlier this week, the Preexisting Satellite Service pay royalties set based on the standards of Section 801(b) of the Copyright Act, which takes into account a number of factors including the interest of the public in getting access to copyrighted material, the relative contributions and financial risks of the parties in distributing the copyrighted material, the stability of the industry, and the right of the copyright holder to get a fair return on their intellectual property.  By contrast, the new subscription services who entered into the settlement just announced, who weren’t around at the time of the drafting of the DMCA, use the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard also used for Internet radio.  And, because of the applicability of the willing buyer willing seller standard and the apparent uncertainties of the litigation process using it, these new services apparently decided to agree to a royalty double that of the preexisting services, even though they provide essentially the same service.

Continue Reading Another Proposed Settlement of Another Copyright Royalty Board Proceeding – New Subscription Services

With summer and the August Congressional recess drawing to a close, will consideration of the Internet Radio controversy over royalties be on the agenda when the September legislative session begins?  In recent weeks, there has been a settlement between the Digital Media Association (DiMA), representing the largest webcasters, and SoundExchange on the issue of the minimum royalty fee – agreeing that the $500 per channel minimum fee imposed by the Copyright Royalty Board ("CRB"), which might have by itself driven many webcasters like Pandora or Live 365 out of business had it not been resolved, would be capped at $50,000.  SoundExchange has also extended a unilateral offer to small commercial webcasters allowing them to continue to pay a percentage of revenue royalty of 10-12% for use of the music produced by SoundExchange members – but limiting the offer to webcasters with under $1.2 million in annual revenue, and requiring that any webcaster with over 5,000,000 tuning hours in any month to pay at the CRB rates for all listening in excess of that limit.  We wrote about that deal, and some of the concerns that larger small webcasters have, here.  These adjustments to the CRB rates may resolve some issues for some webcasters, but they leave open many other issues as set forth below – but will these tweaks to the CRB decision be enough to take the Congressional heat, in the form of the Internet Radio Equality Act, off of SoundExchange?

What issues remain?  There are still many.  These include:

  • The issues of the larger independent webcasters who may currently fit under the Small Webcaster Settlement ("SWSA") Act caps – but may well go over those caps before 2010, and could not afford to pay royalties at the CRB-mandated rates if they exceed the SWSA limits.
  • The CRB mandated rates are themselves problematic for virtually all commercial webcasters – and DiMA made clear that the settlement of the minimum fee issue was the first step in resolving the issues that preclude a vibrant webcasting industry under the CRB rates (see the DiMA press release on the settlement, here)
  • Noncommercial webcasters have not announced any settlement with SoundExchange – even though many expressed concerns over the fees for large noncommercial webcasters  which will, by the end of the royalty period, increase about 9 times over the rates that they had been paying (and more for larger NPR affiliates), and over recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
  • Broadcasters who stream their over-the-air signal over the Internet have not been involved in any of the tweaks to the CRB decision, nor has SoundExchange responded to the NAB’s settlement offer made in June (according to the clock on the NAB homepage, the NAB settlement offer has been outstanding without response for 84 days at the time this post is being written). 


Continue Reading Congress to Return – Will Internet Radio Royalties Be on Its Agenda

If you are a broadcaster, you know that it’s not going to be a good day when you walk into a hearing on the possible extension of the performance royalty in sound recordings to over-the-air broadcasters and see buttons saying "I Support a Performance Right NOW" on the lapels of every other witness on the panel – including the Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters.  But that was the scene in Washington, as the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property held a hearing as to whether the right to collect a royalty for the public performance of a sound recording (the actual song as sung by a particular artist, as opposed to the underlying musical composition) should be paid by broadcasters.  Broadcasters in the United States have paid only a royalty on the public performance of the composition (to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC), and have never paid a royalty for the public performance of the sound recording.  The lack of a sound recording royalty has always been justified in the past on the theory that the artists and copyright holders in the sound recording benefit more than composers through the airplay of the sound recording, as they receive the bulk of the proceeds from CD sales, and the performers benefit from the promotion of live performances.  As they benefit from the promotion provided by the airplay of the song, there is no need for any sort of performance royalty.  As the music and radio businesses have both thrived in the United States – more so than anywhere else in the world – it seemed that this arrangement was mutually beneficial.

But, in recent years, the consensus over this mutually beneficial arrangement seems to have broken down.  Starting in 1995, a performance right in sound recordings has been imposed on digital services, including the royalty on Internet radio which has recently been so controversial (and about which we have written so much, here).  And, with the recent downturn in the record companies’ business, additional sources of revenue are being sought – thus the RIAA and SoundExchange, the collective that receives sound recording performance royalties, have started a Congressional push to require the collection of royalties from over-the-air radio.  And that push was reflected in the hearing held on Tuesday before a House Committee that seemed clearly to favor the imposition of this royalty on broadcasters.

Continue Reading House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Broadcast Performance Right – No Breaks for the Broadcasters

Monday, July 16th is the first business day after the effective date of the new Internet Radio royalties set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  As we wrote earlier this week, the Court of Appeals has denied the requested stay of the effective date.  And, while a bill was introduced in Congress this week to provide for a legislative stay, that will not be acted on by Monday, nor will action occur on the broader Internet Radio Equality Act.  Thus, many webcasters are asking what they should do on July 16.  Some have suggested that they should stop streaming, while others have wondered what will happen if they don’t pay the higher royalties.  This decision is one that each webcaster should make carefully, in consultation with their counsel and business advisers.  But there are some practical considerations that should be taken into account when making the decision as to what should be done on Monday.

First, it should be noted that not all webcasters are equally affected by the royalty rate increase.  Larger commercial webcasters, including most broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet, should have been paying royalties up to now that, while lower than those adopted by the CRB, have increased by "only" about 40%  – from $.00076 per performance (per song per listener) to $.0011 per performance.  These rates will continue to increase between now and 2010 so that they eventually will reach $.0019 per song per listener.  But for now, the increase is relatively modest (as compared with some of the other increases discussed below).  While there are reportedly at least some conversations going on between SoundExchange and groups representing broadcasters and large webcasters about reaching some sort of accommodation on royalties, there is no certainty that any deal will be reached, so these webcasters probably should be paying the higher royalties (and hoping for a credit against future royalties should there be an agreement reached in the future to reduce these royalties, a successful appeal, or future legislative action reducing the royalties).

Continue Reading It’s July 15th – What’s a Webcaster to Do?

Last week brought more action, and not much in the way of  results, as we count down to the July 15 effective date of the new Internet Radio Royalties.  The actions that received the largest amount of press coverage were the hearing before the US House of Representatives Small Business Committee, and the offer by SoundExchange suggesting that the minimum $500 per channel fee be capped at $2500 per service. While both initially seemed to offer the prospect of some resolution of the dispute over the Internet Radio royalties that were adopted by the Copyright Royalty Board, in fact neither ultimately resulted in much.

The Committee hearing featured webcasters and musicians – equally divided between those who believed that the royalties were fairly decided, and those who believed that the rates were too high.  The one thing on which most of the witnesses seemed to agree was that some rate adjustment was warranted for small webcasters, though no one was able to quantify how such a settlement should be reached.  The Congressional representatives, on the other hand, were cautious to act, asking again and again whether the parties were going to be able to settle the case between themselves.  While Congressman Jay Inslee testified in favor of his Internet Radio Equality Act, the members of the committee seemed hesitant to act while there were judicial avenues of relief still pending, and the possibility of settlement.

Continue Reading Minimum Per Channel Fee Offer – Waiting for the Stay?