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

We’ve already written twice about the copyright issues being considered this summer before various agencies and branches of government – all dealing with music licensing issues (see our previous Summer of Copyright articles here and here).  The pattern continues, as the Copyright Office has now requested further comments on music licensing issues, following up on its roundtables held across the country during the month of June to discuss its music licensing inquiry begun in the spring (see our summary of the initial Copyright Office notice on its study, here).  In yesterday’s Federal Register, there is a notice asking a series of questions about specific issues that were raised in the roundtables which the Office apparently finds to be of significance.  Additional comments on these issues, and on any related issues affecting music licensing, are due on or before August 22.

What are the questions being asked by the Copyright Office, and what do they portend for its ultimate recommendations to Congress who, as we recently wrote, is itself considering music licensing issues and the potential for a comprehensive reform of music licensing in this country?  The areas in which the questions are being raised are not new ones, but instead continue the themes raised in other forums this summer.  They include questions as to how withdrawals of major publishers from the Performing Rights Organizations (ASCAP and BMI in particular) could affect those organizations.  We first wrote about potential publisher withdrawals and the impact that could have on music services back in 2011.  Also, on a related question, they ask why, when these organizations have collected record amounts of money in recent years, songwriters are complaining that they are economically struggling.  In addition, questions are asked about the procedures used by the Copyright Royalty Board in their rate-setting process and whether those procedures should be revised, how better identification of musical works and sound recordings could be adopted to make recordkeeping and royalty administration easier, how a system of setting mechanical royalties could work without a statutory license, and whether there are international licensing models that might be adaptable to the US market.  Some details below.
Continue Reading The Summer of Copyright, Part 3 – The Copyright Office Requests Further Comments in its Inquiry on Music Royalties and Licensing

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week finished its second hearing on music licensing (written witness statements and a link to the webcast can be found here).  Congressional hearings usually are not in-depth proceedings looking to establish detailed facts as done in a hearing in a court proceeding.  Instead, they are formalized proceedings where parties get to make their canned statements setting out positions on issues.  Congressional representatives themselves make statements setting out their positions on the issues, and ask pointed questions to selected witnesses to reinforce those positions.  Minds are rarely changed, and the truly undecided are rarely illuminated on the issues.  But the hearings do serve to set out the issues that are going to be considered by the Committee in ultimately crafting legislation.  And last week’s hearing did just that – highlighting the issues likely to be considered in legislation promised by the Committee Chair, Representative Goodlatte, who promised an omnibus bill on music licensing, dubbed the “Music Bus,” to address the many issues on the table.

Note that any bill that is ultimately introduced will address many seemingly minor issues – details of process and procedure that don’t make the headlines.  But the big issues are the ones that will cause the most industry argument before the lawyers work out the details.  It’s also important to note that it is very late in the legislative calendar right now, with the Senate not putting the same emphasis on copyright issues as it the House.  With elections coming up in the Fall, and scheduled upcoming summer recess, Congress has much must-pass legislation that will fill up their legislative days before the next Congress is sworn in in January.  The start of a new Congress means that all legislation will have a fresh start.  Thus, any Omnibus bill that is introduced this year will most likely not become law, but instead will set the agenda for discussions for next year in the new Congress.  Certainly, there may be more limited bills that sponsors may try to get stuck on other legislation that must move before the end of the Congressional session, so interested parties will remain vigilant during the final days of this session of Congress.  But what are the issues that are on the table for inclusion in any Music Bus?
Continue Reading The Summer of Copyright, Part 2 – The House Judiciary Committee Plans Omnibus Music Licensing Bill – The “Music Bus”

In discussing music royalties, the controversy that usually makes the news is the dispute between music services and copyright holders – with services arguing that the royalties are too high and rightsholders contending that they are underpaid. The introduction of the Songwriters Equity Act in Congress earlier this year seems to point toward a new area of dispute – one between the various rightsholders themselves.  This issue was one that was much discussed on a panel that I moderated last week at the RAIN Summit West (audio of that panel is available here).  What is this conflict?

The Songwriters Equity Act, while not explicit in identifying the controversy, does point to the dispute. As we have written many times before, in any piece of recorded music, there are two copyrights – the sound recording copyright (also known as the “master recording,” the recording of a particular song by a particular artist, rights usually held by the record label), and the right to the musical work (or “musical composition,” the words and music to a song, usually held by a publishing company).  The proposed legislation suggests that the amount of the royalties for the public performance of sound recordings can be taken into account in setting the royalties that are payable to songwriters for the public performance of the songs that they have written.  This would amend Section 114(i) of the Copyright Act, which currently prohibits the consideration of the sound recording royalty in determining the rates to be paid for the public performance of musical works.  The proposed legislation would also substitute the “willing buyer, willing seller” standard for the 801(b) standard in setting rates under Section 115 of the Copyright Act, the mechanical royalty (see our discussion of the difference between these standards, here).  While this does not sound like a big deal, it may have a significant impact.
Continue Reading Raising the Royalties for Musical Works? A Discussion of the Potential Dispute between Music Rights Holders over the Value of Their Rights

The Copyright Office recently issued a Notice and Request for Public Comment on a study that they have commenced on music licensing in all of its forms.  We’ve written about the complexity of the music licensing process many times, and about proposals for reform.  Many of these proposals have been issued in connection with the speeches of Copyright Register Maria Pallante’s discussion of copyright reform (see our article here), and the subsequent Green Paper on Copyright issued by the Patent and Trademark Office (see our article here).  This Notice appears to be one more step in this overall review of copyright underway throughout the administration and in Congress.  The Notice released by the Copyright Office is wide-ranging, and touches on almost every area of controversy in music licensing.  Comments are due on May 16, and the Copyright Office promises to hold roundtable discussions to further explore the issues in music licensing.

The issues on which the Copyright Office asks for comments deal both with the licensing of the musical composition or musical work (the words and music of a song) and the sound recording (the song as actually recorded by a particular artist).  The request deals with both the public performance right for musical compositions, usually licensed through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, and the rights to make reproductions of the works, which are usually licensed by the music publishers, sometimes through organizations like the Harry Fox Agency.  On the sound recording side of the music world, the rights are usually licensed by the record company except for the public performance royalties paid by non-interactive music services, which are collected in the United States by SoundExchange. 
Continue Reading Copyright Office Begins Wide-Ranging Inquiry Into Music Licensing

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?

As we wrote two years ago, when the Beatles first announced that their catalog would be licensed to iTunes as the first interactive service to get access to their music, such services need to get licenses from the copyright holder of the sound recordings (or “master recording” – a song as recorded by a particular artist) in order to play those songs. By contrast, the non-interactive services operate under a statutory license, where a digital music service pays a royalty set by the Copyright Royalty Board (or a negotiated rate agreed to in lieu of litigation before the CRB see our article here about the various rates that are currently available to webcasters, and our article here about the start of a new proceeding to determine what those rates will be from 2016-2020). If the service pays that royalty, and observes the requirements of the license (like the “performance complement” that limits the number of songs from the same artist that can be played in a given time period, the prior promotion of the playing of a song, and certain other matters – see our article on the performance complement here) – they can play any legally available sound recording available in the US, and the sound recording copyright holder can’t object.

Continue Reading It’s the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles Arrival in the US – Why Are Their Songs Still Missing on Some On-Demand Music Services?

In one week this month, Apple announced that it will get into Internet Radio, and Pandora, the biggest player in that space, announced that it will be buying a traditional, over-the-air radio station. What do these two big announcements say about the state of music royalties for digital music services? Apple’s struggles to get its service launched were well chronicled, as it was working to get an agreement for its new service from the record labels. What was less reported was its simultaneous negotiations with the music publishing community. Pandora’s radio station purchase, on the other hand, was admittedly a simple deal to take advantage of a blanket license available to all similarly situated companies owning radio stations. We’ll explain why these two deals were so different, and what impact the deals may have on other digital music services below.

The Apple deal is one negotiated with the copyright holders for the simple reason that the service that it is offering appears to be an interactive one, unlikely to be completely covered by any statutory (compulsory) or other blanket license. As we’ve written before, a statutory or compulsory license is one where the copyright holder, by law, cannot refuse to make available his or her copyrighted work. But, in return, the copyright holder receives a royalty set by the government – in the US, usually the Copyright Royalty Board. In the music world, the two most common compulsory licenses are the ones that allow webcasters and other digital music services to publicly perform sound recordings (the royalties paid by webcasters, satellite radio and digital cable radio companies to the record companies and artists), and the royalty that allows users (including record companies) to make reproductions of musical compositions in connection with the making of a sound recording, downloads, ringtones, and probably on-demand streaming services. This royalty is commonly referred to as the mechanical royalty, and is paid to songwriters and composers or their publishing companies. To qualify for these compulsory licenses, a company must follow certain rules. If they don’t, then they have to negotiate directly for the licenses from the copyright holder – which appears to be what Apple did.

Continue Reading Apple Announces an Internet Radio Offering and Pandora Buys a “Real” Radio Station – What Does It Mean for Music Royalties?

Last month, we wrote about the proposed settlement on "mechanical royalties" under Section 115 of the Copyright Act. These royalties are paid when "reproductions" are made of a musical composition.  In the analog world, these were most commonly paid by a record company to a music publisher for the rights to use a musical composition when one

The broadcast and music trade press brought news of a settlement between music companies and digital media services regrading digital music royalties.  Some press reports jumped to the conclusion that the decision had something to do with the royalty rates that Internet radio companies pay SoundExchange for streaming their music on the Internet.  Others expressed disappointment that it did not seem to address that issue at all.  In fact, the reason that the settlement had nothing to do with webcasting was because it was a settlement of a Copyright Royalty Board proceeding involving a totally different right – essentially the right to reproduce a the musical work, i.e. the words and music to a song – not any public performance right that is involved in Internet radio streaming.

As we have written before (including the last time a similar settlement was announced), webcasters pay their royalties principally under Section 114 of the Copyright Act, which sets up a "statutory license" requiring that all copyright holders in a "sound recording" (a recording of a song by a particular artist) make their songs available for public performance to any digital music service that meets certain criteria – including principally that their service is a non-interactive one, where listeners cannot pick the particular song that they want to hear.  In exchange for this right, digital music services pay a fee set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  These fees cover liabilities for music use in a process where a service generates a product that goes from the service to many people, much like radio does in the traditional world, without making any sort of lasting digital copy that would be akin, in the physical world, to a CD or record.  The settlement that was just announced deals with rights that like those paid, in the physical world, by a record company to a music publisher for using a musical composition in a record or CD that the record company is recording with a particular artist, not with the public performance right.

Continue Reading Music Royalty Settlement Announced on Mechanical Royalties – Not A Decision on Webcasting Rates