The MusicFirst coalition last week asked that the FCC investigate broadcast stations that allegedly cut back on playing the music of artists who back a broadcast performance royalty, and also those stations who have run spots on the air opposing the performance royalty without giving the supporters of the royalty an opportunity to respond.  While the NAB and many other observers have suggested that the filing is simply wrong on its facts, pointing for instance to the current chart-topping position of the Black Eyed Peas whose lead singer has been a vocal supporter of the royalty, it seems to me that there is an even more fundamental issue at stake here – the First Amendment rights of broadcasters.  What the petition is really saying is that the government should impose a requirement on broadcasters that they not speak out on an issue of fundamental importance to their industry.  The petition seems to argue that the rights of performers (and record labels) to seek money from broadcasters is of such importance that the First Amendment rights of broadcasters to speak out against that royalty should be abridged.

While the MusicFirst petition claims that it neither seeks to abridge the First Amendment rights of broadcasters nor to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, it is hard credit that claim.  After all, the petition goes directly to the heart of the broadcasters ability to speak out on the topic, and seems to want to mandate that broadcasters present the opposing side of the issue, the very purpose of the Fairness Doctrine.  As we’ve written, the Fairness Doctrine was abolished as an unconstitutional abridgment on the broadcaster’s First Amendment rights 20 years ago.  As an outgrowth of this decision, FCC and Court decisions concluded that broadcasters have the right to editorialize on controversial issues, free of any obligation to present opposing viewpoints.  What is it that makes this case different?


Continue Reading MusicFirst’s Complaint to the FCC: The First Amendment and the Performance Royalty

In recent months, SESAC has been writing letters to broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet, asking for royalties for the performance of SESAC music on their websites.  More than one broadcaster has asked me why they have any obligation to SESAC when they are already paying SoundExchange for the music that they stream.  In fact, SoundExchange and SESAC are paid for different rights, and thus the payments to SoundExchange have no impact on the obligations that are owed to SESAC.  SESAC, along with ASCAP and BMI, represent the composers of music in collecting royalties for the public performance of their compositions.  SoundExchange, on the other hand, represents the performers of the music (and the copyright holders in those performances – usually the record companies).  In the online digital world, the SoundExchange fees cover the public performance of these recordings by particular performers (referred to as "sound recordings").  For an Internet radio company, or the online stream of a terrestrial radio station, payments must be made for both the composition and the sound recording. 

To illustrate the difference between the two rights, let’s look at an example.  On a CD released a few years ago, singer Madeleine Peyroux did a cover version of the Bob Dylan song "You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."  For that song, the public performance of the composition (i.e. Dylan’s words and music) is licensed through SESAC.  The actual "sound recording" of Peyroux’s version of the song would be licensed through SoundExchange, with the royalties being split between Peyroux and her record label (with backing singers and musicians receiving a small share of the SoundExchange royalty). 


Continue Reading SoundExchange Fees Don’t Cover SESAC Obligations

Last month, the FCC released a Public Notice requesting further comments on the proposal to increase the power of HD radio operations.  We have written about that proceeding a number of times, including posts here and here.  The increased power for the digital radio signals has been sought by many broadcasters who believe that current HD radio power levels do not  produce strong enough digital signals to penetrate buildings and fully serve radio markets.  On the other hand, other broadcasters fear that the increased power for the digital signals will create interference to existing analog stations operating on adjacent channels.  Today, the FCC set the dates for the filing of these additional comments – comments are due on July 6, with replies due on July 17

While comments have already been filed on the proposal to increase digital power, the FCC has raised a number of specific issues on which it wants comments, especially in light of the studies sponsored by NPR in cooperation with a number of other broadcasters, which seek to do a comprehensive review of the interference potential of higher powered digital operations.  NPR is shooting to have that report to the FCC in September.  The specific questions raised in the new FCC notice are:

  • Whether the FCC should wait to decide on the power increase proposal until after the NPR study is done
  • Whether current operations by radio stations operating in HD, and the various tests that have already been run, demonstrate the need for higher power operation on a permanent or provisional basis
  • Whether new standards of interference to adjacent channel stations should be adopted, and if the interference should also protect LPFM stations
  • Whether there should be specific procedures adopted to resolve any interference issues that do arise. 


Continue Reading FCC Seeks More Comments on Possible HD Radio Power Increase – Should LPFM Be Protected?

Reading the papers and watching the news this weekend, one would think that analog television is a relic of the past – something that we can all soon look back at fondly as a quaint childhood memory, never to be seen again.  Yet all the reports fail to mention that for populations that watch their over-the-air television from TV translators or Low Power TV stations, analog television is still very much a reality, and in some places will be for years until the FCC sets a deadline for the digital conversion of these stations. Many of these stations operate in rural areas or serve minority or other specialized audiences, perhaps explaining the lack of coverage in the mainstream media.  But, given all the publicity that has been accorded to the "completion" of the conversion, some of these populations may well have been confused by the process.  We’ve writtenabout this issue and how it could have created confusion in smaller markets which have service by both full-power and low power TV stations, here.

The transition of LPTV to digital raises a number of issues – including the ability of these stations to deliver radio-type programming when operating on Channel 6.  As we’ve written, LPTV stations on Channel 6 have been used to provide radio services, as Channel 6 is immediately adjacent to the FM band and can be picked up on most radio receivers..  However, when the ultimate transition of LPTV to digital is completed, the ability of these stations to provide a radio-type service will probably disappear, as the audio system used by digital television will not be picked up by analog radio receivers. 


Continue Reading Analog Television – Not Dead Yet – Not All LPTV Stations are Digital

The full text of the FCC’s revisions to its ownership report filing process was released last week.  The new rules will require that all commercial stations (including LPTV stations) file an updated Form 323 on November 1 every other year – starting in 2009.  The Order does not add much to the summary that we provided when the decision was first announced, though it does make clear that the electronic form will be revised to no longer allow for PDF attachments, instead requiring that all information be provided on the electronic form itself, so that it can be more easily searched.  With complex ownership structures, which are sometimes not easily explained in the confines of an FCC form, this may create some difficulties.  The Order did not seem to freeze the obligations for the filing of Form 323 Ownership Reports on the old version of the form on the current schedule while the new form is being created and approved by the Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act, so stations in states with June 1 deadlines for their biennial reports should continue their preparation (see our Advisory on the the reports that are due on June 1 for radio stations in Arizona, District of Columbia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming, and television stations in Michigan and Ohio).

The Order also asked for further comment on the Ownership Report requirements for noncommercial licensees, including LPFM stations.  The Commission asks not only for comments on whether noncommercial operators should be required to file their reports on the same two year cycle as commercial broadcasters, but also for comments on what information should be required from these operators.  As noted by the FCC, the question of who controls a noncommercial station is often not an easy one – as there are varying degrees of control and oversight of station operations at many of the institutions that hold noncommercial licenses.  As noted by the FCC, there has been a Notice of Inquiry into noncommercial broadcast station ownership pending since 1989, trying to set out when there is a transfer of control of such entities that needs prior FCC approval.  Noncommercial stations have been operating under the interim policy set forth in that Notice for almost 20 years.  While the Commission does not seemingly ask for any change in the interim policy at this point, by gathering information about what ownership information should be reported on the new ownership report for a noncommercial entity, a resolution of that long-pending proceeding could potentially be in the works.


Continue Reading Rules On New Ownership Reports Released – Including Proposals for Information from Noncommercial Broadcasters

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee today approved a bill that would impose, for the first time, a royalty on radio broadcasters for the public performance of sound recordings in their over-the-air broadcasts.  if this bill were to be adopted by the full House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed by the President, broadcasters would have to pay for the use of sound recordings (the actual recording of a song by a particular musical artist) in addition to the royalties that they already pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of the underlying musical composition.  While, from the discussion at the hearing today, the bill is much amended from the original bill (about which we wrote, here) to try to address some of the issue that have been raised by critics, the Committee made clear that there were still issues that needed to be addressed – preferably through negotiations between broadcasters and the recording industry – before the bill would move on to the full House for consideration.  It was, as Representative Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas stated, still a "work in progress."  In fact, the Committee asked that the General Accounting Office conduct an expedited study of the impact of this legislation on radio and on musicians – but it did not wait for that study before approving the bill – despite requests from some royalty opponents that it do so. 

While I have not yet seen a copy of the amended bill that Congressman John Conyers, the Chairman of the Committee, said had been completed only a few hours before the hearing, the statements made at the hearing set out some details of the changes made to the original version of the bill.  First, changes were made to reduce the impact on small broadcasters – reducing royalties to as little as $500 for stations that make less than $100,000 in yearly gross revenues.  Interestingly, Representative Zoe Lofgren pointed out that, in a bill that means to address the perceived inequality in royalties, a small webcaster with $100,000 in revenues would be paying $10,000 in royalties – 20 times what is proposed for the small broadcaster.  And the small broadcaster who would pay $5000 for revenues up to $1.25 million in revenue would be paying 1/30th of the amount paid by a small webcaster making that same amount of revenue.


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty Passes House Judiciary Committee – A Work In Progress

National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr today announced his decision to leave the Association, leaving the NAB without a leader at a time when the Association is facing an incredible number of challenges in Washington. One can only hope that the NAB acts quickly to replace Rehr with someone prepared to aggressively address the needs of an industry hobbled by the current economic climate, and challenged by regulatory issues that could further undermine the ability of radio and television operators to compete in today’s media marketplace. The potential broadcast performance royalty, which could require that radio operators pay musicians and record labels for the rights to play their music on the air, is but one of a number of fundamental challenges that need to be addressed very shortly by broadcaster’s representatives in Washington – perhaps in the next week or two when the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee may take up the "performance tax" issue (as the NAB has called it in their arguments on Capitol Hill).

What else will a new NAB President have to contend with?  In addition to the performance royalty, there seems to be a perception in many quarters that broadcasting is no longer the special medium that it once was that demands regulatory deference because of the public interest service that it provides.  Because of the lessening of some of Washington’s regard for broadcasters,  there are many issues now before the FCC, Congress, the courts, and other agencies in Washington – all of which could have a serious impact on broadcasters – including:

 

  • The final days of the DTV transition
  • The FCC’s implementation of their White Areas order allowing wireless users to use parts of the TV spectrum – and the appeals and other attempts to overturn or modify that decision
  • The reauthorization of SHVERA, to continue to allow satellite companies to beam local television signals into local markets – where parties are raising all sorts of extraneous issues about carriage rights and retransmission consent, possible changes in TV market boundaries, and changes in the rights of satellite carriers to import distant signals.
  • The FCC’s localism proceeding, which could impose new obligations on broadcasters at a time when broadcast competition has never been so intense – when the marketplace should dictate how broadcasters best serve their communities
  • Potential Congressional effort to bring back the Fairness Doctrine in some form or another
  • A number of FCC proceedings that could affect new methods of advertising meant to combat technological changes – like embedded advertising and product placement that are meant to partially overcome the effects of DVRs.
  • Congressional attempts to regulate advertising and programing – including potential efforts to restrict prescription drug ads, ED treatments, violent programming and programming that promotes unhealthy foods
  • FCC attempts to reign in technical changes in FM stations to allow them to take steps to increase power and to move into larger markets
  • Congressional moves to remove restrictions on LPFM stations on channels that are third-adjacent to full power facilities – and to potentially give these new stations rights to replace existing FM translators


Continue Reading NAB President David Rehr to Leave – What’s Next for His Replacement?

The week, Congressman Rick Boucher, a member of both the House of Representatives Commerce and Judiciary Committees, told an audience of broadcasters at the NAB Leadership Conference that they should accept that there will be a performance royalty for sound recordings used in their over-the-air programming and negotiate with the record companies about the amount of a such a royalty.  He suggested that broadcasters negotiate a deal on over-the-air royalties, and get a discount on Internet radio royalties.  Sound recordings are the recordings by a particular recording artist of a particular song.  These royalties would be in addition to the payments to the composers of the music that are already made by broadcasters through the royalties collected by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.   Congressman Boucher heads the Commerce Committee subcommittee in charge of broadcast regulation, and he has been sympathetic to the concerns of Internet radio operators who have complained about the high royalty rates for the use of sound recordings.  Having the Congressman acknowledge that broadcasters needed to cut a deal demonstrated how seriously this issue is really being considered on Capitol Hill.

The NAB was quick to respond, issuing a press release, highlighting Congressional opposition to the Performance royalty (or performance tax as the NAB calls it) that has been shown by support for the Local Radio Freedom Act – an anti-performance royalty resolution that currently has over 150 Congressional supporters.  The press release also highlights the promotional benefits of radio airplay for musicians, citing many musicians who have thanked radio for launching and promoting their careers.   The controversy was also discussed in an article on Bloomberg.com.  In the article, the central issue of the whole controversy was highlighted.  If adopted, how much would the royalty be?  I was quoted on how the royalty could be very high for the industry (as we’ve written here, using past precedent, the royalty could exceed 20% of revenue for large music-intensive stations).  An RIAA spokesman responded by saying that broadcasters were being alarmists, and the royalty would be "reasonable."  But would it?


Continue Reading Congressman Boucher to NAB – Accept Performance Royalty – How Much Would It Cost?

With all the recent discussion of the NAB-SoundExchange settlement (see our post here) and the recent Court of Appeals argument on Copyright Royalty Board decision on Internet Radio royalties, we have not summarized the "settlement" that SoundExchange agreed to with a few very small webcasters.  That agreement would essentially extend through 2015 the terms that SoundExchange unilaterally offered to small webcasters in 2007, and make these terms a "statutory" rate that would be binding on all copyright holders.  The deal comes with caveats – that an entity accepting the offer would be prevented from continuing in any appeal of the 2006-2010 royalties and from assisting anyone who is challenging the rates in the CRB proceeding for rates for 2011-2015, even if the webcaster grows out of the rates and terms that SoundExchange proposes.  Once it signs the deal, it cannot have any role before the court or CRB in trying to shape the rates that his or her company would be subject to once they are no longer a small webcaster until after 2015.  Even with these caveats, the deal does provide the very small webcaster the right to pay royalties based on a percentage of their revenue, and even provides some recordkeeping relief to "microcasters", the smallest of the small webcasters.  Parties currently streaming and interested in taking this deal must elect it by April 30 by submitting to SoundExchange forms available on its website for "small webcasters" (here) and "microcasters" (here).

The Small Commercial Webcasters that I represented in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding did not negotiate this deal.  In fact, no party who participated in the CRB case signed the "settlement", yet it has become a deal available to the industry under the terms of the Webcaster Settlement Act as SoundExchange and some webcasters agreed to it.  My clients have been arguing for a rate that allows their businesses to grow beyond the limits of $1.25 million in revenue and 5 million monthly aggregate tuning hours set forth in this agreement.  But for very small webcasters not interested or able to participate in regulatory efforts to change the rules, and who do not expect their businesses to grow significantly between now and 2015, this deal may provide some opportunities.  The webcaster pays 10% of all revenues that it receives up to $250,000, and 12% of revenues above that threshold up to $1.25 million.  If it exceeds the $1.25 million revenue threshold, it can continue to pay at the percentage of revenue rates for 6 months, and then it would transition to paying full per performance royalty rates as set out by the CRB.   A service would also have to pay for all streaming in excess of 5 million monthly ATH at full CRB rates.  Microcasters, defined as those who make less than $5000 annually and stream less than 18,067 ATH per year (essentially an audience averaging just over 2 concurrent listeners, 24 hours a day 7 days a week), need pay only $500 a year and, for an additional $100 a year, they can be exempted from all recordkeeping requirements.


Continue Reading SoundExchange “Settlement” With Microcasters – A Royalty Option for the Very Small Webcaster