The question of when a digital music service is “interactive” and therefore requires direct negotiations with a copyright holder in order to secure permission to use a sound recording is a difficult one that has been debated since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was adopted in 1998. In a decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals released today, upholding a jury decision in 2007, the Court concluded that Yahoo’s Launchcast service (now operated by CBS) is not so “interactive” as to take it outside of the statutory royalty despite the fact that the service does customize its music offerings to the tastes of individual listeners. To reach its decision, the Court went through an extensive analysis of both the history of the sound recording copyright and of the details of the criteria used by Launchcast to select music for a stream sent to a specific user. By determining that the service is not interactive, the service need only pay the SoundExchange statutory royalty to secure permission to use all legally recorded and publicly released music.  Had the service been found to be interactive within the meaning of the statute, the service would have to negotiate with each sound recording copyright holder for each and every song that it wanted to use on its service to get specific rights to use each song – potentially resulting in hundreds of negotiations and undoubtedly higher fees than those paid under the statutory license.

The issue in the case turned on an analysis of the DMCA’s definition of an interactive service.  The statute defines an interactive service as one where a user can select a specific song or “receive a transmission of a program specially created for the recipient.” It is clear that Launchcast did not allow a user to request and hear a specific song.  But, by specifying a genre of music, and by specifying favorite artists and songs and rating other songs played by the service, a listener could influence the music that was provided to it.  Was this ability to influence the music sufficient to make it an “interactive service” and thus take it out of the coverage of the statutory royalty?

Continue Reading Court of Appeals Determines that Launchcast is Not an Interactive Service – Thus Not Needing Direct Licenses From the Record Labels

Yesterday, it was announced that CBS would be operating Yahoo’s Launchcast Internet Radio operations.  This is ironic as the industry seems to have now come full circle, as Yahoo’s Internet Radio operations include the interests that they received when they purchased Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com, which had a substantial part of its business in the streaming of terrestrial radio stations.  While Yahoo long ago stopped streaming the broadcast signals retransmitted by Broadcast.com, it is ironic that a traditional broadcast company has now taken much of the control of not only the Internet radio operations of Yahoo, but also those of AOL and Last.FM (see our post on the AOL deal here).  Explicitly blamed for Yahoo’s decision to turn its Internet radio operations over to CBS was, according to press reports, its concerns over the Internet radio royalties as set by the Copyright Royalty Board last year, a decision about which we have written extensively.  How will this transaction affect the debate over those royalties?

Initially, this action once again shows that assumptions about the state of the Internet radio industry that colored the perception of the Copyright Royalty Judges in their determination of the royalty rates were incorrect.  While not explicitly part of the grounds of the CRB decision on the webcaster’s royalty, there was much testimony in the CRB proceeding that suggested that Internet radio brought customers to portal sites, and that higher royalties were justified by the value that these visitors added to the portals when the listeners engaged in other activities at the portal.   Yet, that model now seems in tatters, as both AOL and Yahoo have turned their operations over to CBS.  This seems to emphatically demonstrate that the economics of Internet radio operations, whether stand-alone or as part of portals, simply do not justify the royalties that were imposed (see our discussion of the Pandora economic and the royalties here).

Continue Reading CBS to Run Yahoo Launchcast Internet Radio – How It Impacts the Royalty Debate