Internet Radio Equality Act

Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the sound recording performance royalty, titling the hearing  "Music and Radio in the 21st Century: Assuring Fair Rates and Rules Across Platforms" (a webcast of which can be accessed here).  While the hearing was ostensibly to search for a way to come up with a uniform system of determining music royalties across various digital media platforms (though the broadcast analog performance royalty snuck into the discussion from time to time), in reality it appeared to be two things – a search for compromise and a demonstration of the dramatically different perspectives from which the recording industry and the digital radio industry approach the topic.  While one might assume that the dramatically different approaches would mean that no compromise was possible, there were a few areas of commonality that perhaps reflect the potential that, at some point, common ground can be found.  We will review the hearing’s discussions in multiple parts – today dealing with the issue of the standard to be used in assessing royalties for the public performance of sound recordings and, in a subsequent post, we will summarize the differing world views of the participants and why the dramatically different ways that they see the business make for difficulty in compromise.

But first, a summary of the issues that were to be discussed at the hearing. Essentially, the hearing was to discuss two bills addressing different aspects of the royalty issues.  Senator Feinstein of California, who chaired the hearing, was looking for any common ground that might exist that would allow for movement on the Perform Act that she has introduced.  That act would attempt to do two things – (1) assure that a common standard was used to assess sound recording royalties in all digital media and (2) adopt standards that would require digital services to use some form of security or encryption that would make "stream ripping" more difficult.  The first goal of her bill, looking for a common standard, was an attempt to avoid some of the problems that have been evident in the royalty proceedings that have thus far been held before the Copyright Royalty Board which have resulted in dramatically different royalties – ranging from 6 to 8% of revenue for satellite radio companies and a similar royalty for digital cable music services (see our posts on those rates here and here) derived under an "801(b) standard" (after section 801b of the Copyright Act) , and the royalty for Internet radio that has been estimated to range between 75% and 300% of gross revenues of those services, derived from a "willing buyer, willing seller" royalty standard.  The Perform Act would subject all to a single standard – and it currently proposes a new standard – "fair market value."


Continue Reading Senate Hearing: The Search for Compromise on Music Performance Royalties – Part One: The Issue of Standards

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

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

Yesterday, SoundExchange sent to many small webcasters an agreement that would allow many to continue to operate under the terms of the Small Webcaster Settlement Act as crafted back in 2002, with modifications that would limit the size of the audience that would be covered by the percentage of revenue royalties that a small webcaster would pay. A press release from SoundExchange about the offer can be found on their website by clicking on the "News" tab.  This is a unilateral offer by SoundExchange, and does not reflect an agreement with the Small Commercial Webcasters (the “SCWs”) who participated in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding to set the rates for 2006-2010 and who are currently appealing the CRB decision to the US Court of Appeals (see our notes on the appeal, here). The SoundExchange offer, while it may suffice for some small operators who do not expect their businesses to grow beyond the limits set out in the SWSA (and who only play music from SoundExchange artists – see the limitations described below), still does not address many of the major issues that the SCWs raised when SoundExchange first made a similar proposal in May, and should not be viewed by Congress or the public as a resolution of the controversy over the webcasting royalties set out by the CRB decision (see our summary of the CRB decision here).

The proposal of SoundExchange simply turns their offer made in May, summarized here, into a formal proposal.  It does not address the criticisms leveled against the offer when first made in May, that the monetary limits on a small webcaster do not permit small webcasters to grow their businesses – artificially condemning them to be forever small, at best minimally profitable operations, in essence little more than hobbies. The provisions of the Small Webcasters Settlement Act were appropriate in 2002 when they were adopted to cover streaming for the period from 1998 through 2005, as the small webcasters were just beginning to grow their businesses in a period when streaming technologies were still new to the public and when these companies were still exploring ways to make money from their operations. Now that the public has begun to use streaming technologies on a regular basis, these companies are looking to grow their businesses into real businesses that can be competitive in the vastly expanding media marketplace. The rates and terms proposed by SoundExchange simply do not permit that to occur. 


Continue Reading Another Offer From SoundExchange – Still Not a Solution

As the clock ticks down to the July 15 effective date of the royalty rates for Internet Radio as determined by the Copyright Royalty Board, webcasters held a Day of Silence today, June 26, to demonstrate to listeners what may well happen if the rates go into effect, and to galvanize their listeners to ask Congress for relief. With the Day of Silence bringing publicity to the Congressional efforts to put the webcasting royalties on hold and to change the standard applied by the Copyright Royalty Board so that it is not focused completely on a hypothetical "willing buyer, willing seller" model, it’s worth looking at some of the other issues that have arisen in the royalty battle in the last few days – including further pleadings filed in connection with the Motion for Stay currently pending in the US Court of Appeals, and the Congressional hearing that will occur on Thursday. 

As we’ve written before, there is currently pending a Motion for Stay of the CRB decision which was submitted jointly by the large and small webcasters and NPR.  Last week, the Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the Copyright Royalty Board to defend the royalty decision, and SoundExchange, each filed oppositions to the Motion for Stay. Each raised many of the same arguments. First, they argued that the large webcasters had procedurally forfeited their rights to challenge the question of the $500 per channel minimum fee by not raising their objection early enough in the CRB proceeding. The DOJ also argued that the damage from the minimum fee was speculative as there was no way to know how that minimum fee would be interpreted. The DOJ contended that, as it was unclear that SoundExchange would prevail on any claim that those Internet Radio services that produced a unique stream for each listener would have to pay $500 for each such stream, the question might end up in a lawsuit – but wouldn’t inevitably lead to the irreparable harm that is necessary for a stay to be issued.


Continue Reading A Day of Silence, A Motion for Stay, and A Congressional Hearing – As the Internet Radio Clock Ticks Down

The Internet Radio Equality Act was introduced in the House of Representatives today, proposing several actions – most significantly the nullification of the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board raising royalty rates for the use of sound recordings by Internet radio stations.  Our summary of the decision and its aftermath can be found here.  In addition to nullifying the decision of the Board, the Act does the following:

  1. Changes the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard used to determine royalty rates for Internet radio to the "801(b)" standard – named after section 801(b) of the Copyright Act, which considers a variety of factors in determining royalties – factors including possible disruption to the industry of royalties, the maximization of the distribution of the copyrighted work to the public, the relative value of the contributions of the copyright holder and the service, and the determination of a fair rate of return to the copyright holder.  The 801(b) standard is the used for determining rates for satellite radio and digital cable radio.
  2. Establishes an interim royalty rate for 2006-2010 of  (at the choice of the webcaster) either .33 cents per Aggregate Tuning Hour of listening or 7.5% of the service’s revenues directly related to Internet radio
  3. For noncommercial radio, places the royalty determination into Section 118 of the Copyright Act, which is where other noncommercial royalties (including the royalty for ASCAP and BMI for over-the-air use of musical compositions) are found, using the standards set forth in that section; and
  4. Establishes a royalty for 2006-2010 for noncommercial entites at 150% of the fee that the service paid for the sound recording royalty during 2004.
  5. Requires three studies to be conducted after the initiation of the next royalty proceeding, that will be submitted to the Copyright Royalty Board for their consideration in that case.  One study, by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration ("NTIA"), would study the economic impact of royalties on the competitiveness of the Internet radio marketplace.  A second, to be conducted by the FCC, would study the impact of royalties on local programming, diversity of programming (including foreign language programming), and the competitive barriers to entry into the Internet radio market.  A final study, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, would provide information to the CRB on the impact of the royalties on public radio operators. 


Continue Reading Internet Radio Equality Act Introduced to Nullify Copyright Royalty Board Decision