Last week, after passage by both chambers of Congress and signature by the President, the ‘‘Orrin G. Hatch–Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act’’ became law. The law underwent a few changes on its journey to approval, adding new provisions in the Senate to those which we summarized here upon its initial passage by the House. The Act retained its same principal purposes. The driving force behind the Act was the desire to simplify the payment of “mechanical royalties” by digital music services for the reproduction and distribution of the millions of musical compositions that they use in the songs that they serve up to more and more consumers across the country. That simplification was accomplished through the creation of a new collective through which these royalties will be paid – essentially a one-stop shop where the statutory royalty will be paid. The collective will have the responsibility for finding the copyright holders and songwriters who share in the royalties – removing the need for the music services to have to identify and pay all of the appropriate rightsholders, a process that has resulted in legal claims for hundreds of millions of dollars against these services for not being able to find all the parties who are supposed to be paid for the mechanical royalties.

The general layout of the system for dealing with the payment of these royalties, through a collective to be established, remains essentially the same as in the initial House Bill. Other provisions were added in the Senate (and then approved again by the House) dealing with matters including pre-1972 sound recordings, Sirius-XM royalties, and the ability of existing music organizations to continue to do direct licenses for mechanical and other rights outside the new statutory system. We may write about those issues later. But the Senate addition likely to have the most significance for the most music users was one having nothing to do with mechanical royalties, but instead with the performance royalty for music works (musical compositions) that is paid by music services, radio stations, bars and restaurants and any other location that plays music that is heard by the public at large. The new language added by the Senate requires that, before the Department of Justice recommends any changes to the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI, the DOJ must first notify Congress of any changes that it will be suggesting to the courts that administer the decrees, so that Congress can decide if it wants to take action to block or modify any such changes. Why is that significant?
Continue Reading Music Modernization Act Becomes Law – Mechanical Rights To Become Easier Just As Performance Rights May Become More Difficult

Next Wednesday, July 25, I will be speaking at the Podcast Movement Conference in Philadelphia, as part of the Broadcasters Meet Podcasters Track, discussing legal issues that broadcasters need to consider as they move some of their content into podcasts. One of the topics that I will be discussing will be the music royalty obligations of podcasters who use music in their programs. A month ago, we wrote about how broadcasters’ streaming royalties are affected by smart speakers like the Amazon Alexa and Google Home, as these speakers play the digital streams of a radio station’s programs where SoundExchange royalties must be paid, as opposed to the over-the-air signal of the station, where no such royalties are owed. These smart speakers may have an impact on podcasters royalties, affecting who needs to be paid in connection with the use of music in podcasts.

When I initially started to write about issues of music use in podcasts, my emphasis was on the need to secure direct licenses from performers and composers (or their record companies and publishing companies) for the rights to make reproductions and distributions of music in podcasts. When digital content is downloaded, it triggers rights under copyright law implicating the reproduction and distribution rights of copyright holders (see our article here), as opposed to their public performance rights – the rights with which broadcasters are most familiar as those are the rights that they obtain when paying Performing Rights Organizations ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR in connection with their over-the-air broadcasts and those PROs plus SoundExchange in connection with noninteractive digital streaming. When podcasts were something that were downloaded, just like the purchase of a download of a song from the iTunes music store, it was the reproduction and distribution rights that were triggered, and conventional wisdom was that the PROs had no role to play in the licensing of downloaded media. As technology has changed, the analysis of what rights you need to use music in podcasts may well be changing too. The direct licensing of music for your podcast is still needed – but a public performance right may well also be necessary.
Continue Reading Hey, Alexa, How Are Your Affecting My Podcasting Music Royalty Obligations?

The week before last, we summarized the provisions of the Music Modernization Act as passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate is now poised to take up this legislation in a hearing scheduled by the Senate Judiciary Committee for next Tuesday, May 15. The legislation proposes, among other things, to set up a SoundExchange-like collective for the collection and payment of mechanical royalties due under Section 115 of the Copyright Act and to create a digital public performance right in pre-1972 sound recordings (ending some of the litigation that has arisen in recent years on that issue). Our summary provides more details on these issues and highlights some of the other issues addressed by this bill.

The consideration of the bill by the Judiciary Committee is the next step to the bill becoming a law. The hearing will feature representatives of several groups directly affected by the legislation – including David Israelite, the CEO of the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA represents publishing companies that usually hold the copyrights to musical compositions); Chris Harrison, the CEO of the Digital Media Association (DiMA represents digital music services like Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music); and Mitch Glazier, the President of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA represents the major record labels who usually own the copyrights to the sound recordings – the compositions as recorded by particular performers). Members of DiMA and the RIAA pay mechanical royalties. Members of NMPA collect those royalties. Thus, these groups are directly affected by the Music Modernization Act. Songwriters and performers, including Motown legend Smokey Robinson, will also testify at the hearing. A full list of the participants can be found on the Judiciary Committee’s website, where video of the hearing will also be available next week.
Continue Reading Senate to Hold Hearing on May 15 on Music Modernization Act

This week, the US House of Representatives passed the Music Modernization Act. While widely supported among many digital media companies providing on-demand subscription music services as well as by many in the music industry, the bill seemingly has not received the publicity that has been afforded to past music royalty legislation. That may be, in part, because there were few who adamantly opposed the provisions of the bill, as evidenced by a unanimous House vote – something that never would have happened had any significant portion of the music industry opposed the bill. But this moment of togetherness may be, in part, due to the somewhat limited (though nevertheless very important) issues that it addresses.

The Modernization of Music Act began as a legislative effort primarily to address the issues raised under Section 115 of the Copyright Act – the section dealing with what are often called “mechanical royalties” – the royalties paid to publishing companies for the copyright in the “musical work,” i.e. the musical composition. In other words, these royalties are paid to the copyright holder of the words and music to a song (sometimes the composer but more often a publishing company) – not to the artist who actually records that song. The provisions of Section 115 were first adopted to allow artists to record songs once a song has been recorded and publically released in the United States – to record a “cover” of the original recordings – provided that compensation set by agreement between the user and the copyright holder is paid or, absent a voluntary agreement, that a royalty set by the Copyright Royalty Board is paid to the copyright holder (see our post here on the last CRB decision on those rates). That mechanical royalty was later expanded to cover “digital phonorecord deliveries” (“DPDs”) – the making of digital copies of the musical composition made in the context of a distribution and delivery of the song to individual consumers. Through caselaw and industry practice, DPDs were interpreted to include the need for royalties not just when a digital download is made, but also when an on-demand or interactive stream of a song is delivered to a consumer.
Continue Reading House of Representatives Passes Music Modernization Act – Looking for Clarity on Mechanical Royalties, Pre-1972 Sound Recordings and Other Music Rights Issues

The press has been full of reports over the last few weeks about Pandora and Amazon negotiating deals with record labels over music royalties, and some observers have expressed confusion – why don’t these services just rely on the rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board at the end of last year? The answer, as we have written many times before (see e.g. our articles here and here) is that the CRB rates apply only to noninteractive webcasters (companies that provide radio-like services where the listener cannot designate what song he or she will hear next). The services that rely on the CRB rates (which we summarized here and here) must abide by specific rules, including something called the “performance complement” which limits how frequently the service can play a particular artist or a particular song. Even the number of times that a listener can skip a song has been set by caselaw and industry practice (see our article here) – the fear being that if you allow unlimited skips the service becomes more like an interactive one.

So a service that wants to provide listeners with the ability to set up their own playlists or to choose to play songs on demand cannot rely on the license available through the CRB decision (the so-called “statutory license” – so named as the license and the CRB rate-setting process were created by a statute passed by Congress). Similarly, services relying on the statutory license cannot cooperate to allow copying of the songs that they play – so even setting up a service to allow the temporary caching of an Internet radio service so that listeners can hear it when they are offline, most likely cannot be done by simply paying the CRB-established rates. So what do music services that want to provide more functionality do?
Continue Reading Pandora and Amazon Negotiating Agreements with Record Labels – Why They Don’t Just Rely on the CRB Rates?

In tomorrow’s Federal Register, the Copyright Royalty Board will announce the commencement of three new proceedings to set music royalties for the 2018-2022 five-year period – each involving a different music right. The Board will begin a proceeding dealing with the digital public performances of sound recordings by satellite radio and “pre-existing subscription services” – the royalty that Sirius XM pays to record labels and performing artists for its performance of their songs on their satellite service, and the rates that cable radio pays for those same uses (see the draft notice here). Our summary of the last proceeding for satellite radio and pre-existing subscription services can be found here. Sirius XM was also a participant in the recent webcasting case, but only for its streaming service.  The statutory royalties at issue here are set by Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act, the same sections that govern the webcasting royalty.

The second proceeding deals with the “mechanical royalty” or the making and distribution of “phonorecords.” That is the proceeding to establish what publishers and songwriters receive when there is a reproduction of their song. Traditionally, that was the royalty paid by a record company to the publisher or songwriter when a “cover version” of a song was made – a flat fee per copy of the song (whether a physical record or CD or a digital download). In recent years, the proceeding has expanded to include royalties paid by on-demand streaming services for their use of music. This is the royalty that has recently been much in the news in connection with the David Lowry lawsuit against Spotify. The CRB pre-publication version of that order is here (and our articles discussing the last decision on that royalty are here and here). This is one proceeding where the record labels and the digital music services are actually more or less on the same side – litigating against the publishing companies and songwriters over how much is paid for the use of the words and music of a particular song.  This proceeding is under Section 115 of the Copyright Act. 
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Set to Begin 3 New Royalty Proceedings – Mechanical Royalty, Sirius XM Satellite Royalty, and Noncommercial Broadcasting Over-the-Air Royalties

Many are sitting around enjoying their holiday treats while listening to the Beatles on their favorite on-demand streaming service, and the press is treating this as a breakthrough – usually omitting the fact that the Beatles have been available on many streaming services for as long as there have been streaming services, namely on Internet radio.  We’ve twice written about this fact, first when the Beatles became available on iTunes, here, and then on the 50th anniversary of their invasion of America, here.  And we also recently wrote about the same legal issues which explained why Adele could withhold her new recording “25” from many streaming services, but not from Internet radio.  With the Beatles back in the headlines, for some post-Christmas holiday reading, we thought that we would reprise our 2014 article about the Beatles long absence from on-demand streaming services.  Here it is:

50 years ago the Beatles invaded America, stacking up Number 1 hit records by the dozens, and creating music that, even today, remains incredibly popular with many Americans.  But go to many of the interactive or on-demand music services, like Spotify, and search for Beatles music, and what will you find?   Mostly cover tunes by sound-alike bands rather than the original hits.  But yet, on services where you can’t designate your next song, like Pandora, you can hear the original songs.  Why the difference?
Continue Reading Big News That the Beatles Are Now Available on Streaming Services? – Actually They Have Been on Internet Radio All Along

The Songwriter’s Equity Act has once again been introduced in Congress (see our article about that Act when it was introduced in the last Congress). It proposes to make changes in provisions of the Copyright Act governing the way that songwriters are paid for the use of their musical compositions – with the obvious intent of raising the songwriters’ compensation. This legislative proposal is one reflection of the complaints by songwriters that they are not sufficiently compensated for the use of their music. It is interesting that this bill was introduced during the same week that ASCAP announced its first year of billion dollar collection for songwriter’s public performance royalties, and at the same time that the Senate explores more comprehensive changes to the antitrust consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI through a hearing held last week, with the Department of Justice review of these decrees expected in the not too distant future (see our article here).

The Act makes seemingly small changes in legislation, but those changes could have a significant impact on how rates paid to songwriters are computed. The first change proposed is to allow the rates set for the public performance of sound recordings (those royalties that digital music services pay to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings – the actual recordings of songs as opposed to the performance of musical compositions for which ASCAP, BMI and SESAC pay songwriters) to be used as evidence by the judges setting rates for the public performance of musical compositions. That has been prohibited under current law. It is interesting to note that, under Copyright Royalty Board precedent, the Copyright Royalty Judges have in the past determined that the rates paid by music services for the public performance of musical compositions are not a precedent for the public performance of sound recordings, as they are different rights that are not necessarily of the same value. Yet this legislation seems to assume that the royalties for sound recordings are in fact instructive as to what those rates should be for public performances. While seemingly acknowledging the relevance, the legislation does not allow the reverse – stating that the legislation should not be seen as having any effect on the precedent already established by the CRB for the rates for the public performance of sound recordings, so that the rates for sound recordings should not be affected by this legislation.
Continue Reading Songwriter’s Equity Act Reintroduced – What Does It Propose?

The Copyright Office this past week released its Report following its study of music licensing in the US; a comprehensive report addressing a number of very controversial issues concerning music rights and royalties.  Whether its release during the week of the Grammy Awards was a coincidence or not, the report itself, which takes positions on many issues, is sure to initiate lots of discussion and controversy of its own.  The report was issued after two rounds of comments (the questions that were asked in each request for comments are detailed in our stories here and here) and three roundtables held in three different cities where representatives of music companies provided ideas on the questions asked (I participated in the Nashville session).  As detailed below, the report addresses some of the hot button issues in the music royalty space including the broadcast performance royalty, publisher withdrawals from ASCAP and BMI (see our article here), and pre-1972 sound recordings.

Before getting into the details of the proposals, it is important to note that the Copyright Office, unlike many other government agencies, does not itself make substantive rules.  Instead, it merely makes recommendations.  For any of the substantive proposals that it suggests in the Report to become law, Congress must act – which is never easy.  In the Copyright world, it is particularly difficult, as the rules and industry practices are so complex and often obscure, and where any change can have a very dramatic effect on some industry player or another.  Often, a simple change in the rules can take money from someone’s pocket and deposit into someone else’s.  Moreover, copyright is not an area where there are clear partisan divides.  Oftentimes, it matters more where a Congressman’s home district is than his or her party affiliation in their leanings on copyright matters.
Continue Reading Copyright Office Issues its Report on Music Licensing – Issues Include Broadcast Performance Royalties, Publisher Withdrawals from ASCAP and BMI, and Pre-1972 Sound Recordings

Last week, I listened in to presentation by RAIN News providing an excellent overview of the digital music industry (their Whitepaper setting out the findings reported during the presentation is available here).  One statement in that presentation suggested to me today’s topic – the use of music in podcasts.  In the RAIN presentation, a statement was made that most major podcasts are spoken word, but no explanation of that fact was provided. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of music in podcasts has to do with rights issues, as the royalties paid to SoundExchange and even to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC don’t apply to traditional podcasts meant to be downloaded onto a digital audio recording device like an iPhone or any other smartphone.  We wrote a warning about this issue a couple of years ago, but as the popularity of podcasts seems to once again on the rise, the warning is worth repeating.

The rights that a broadcaster or digital music company gets from ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (commonly called the “PROs” or performing rights organizations) deal with the public performance of music.  The PROs license the “musical work” or “musical composition” – the lyrics and the notes that make up the song.  They do not license particular recordings of the song.  As we have discussed before in other contexts, a public performance is a transmission of a copyrighted work to multiple people outside your limited friends and family (see our discussions here and here).  SoundExchange’s royalties also deal with public performance – but it is licensing the public performance of the sound recording – the words and music as recorded by a particular artist.  And SoundExchange only licenses such performances where they are made by a non-interactive service – where the user cannot determine what songs it will hear next (and where the service meets certain other requirements – see our article here for some of those additional requirements).  Podcasts don’t fit within the SoundExchange limitations, and while there has been some debate about whether the PROs have any licensing role in the podcast world (see this article), additional rights from music publishers (who usually control the musical composition copyright) are also needed.
Continue Reading Beware of Music in Your Podcasts – SoundExchange, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC Don’t Give You the Rights You Need