Under the compulsory license for the use of sound recordings – the license which allows Internet radio services to use all legally recorded sound recordings by paying a royalty set by the Copyright Royalty Board – the designated collection agency can, once each year, audit a licensee to assess its compliance with the royalty requirements.  Under the law, when the collective decides to audit a company, it must notify the Copyright Royalty Board, who then gives public notice of the fact that an audit is to take place.  The Copyright Royalty Board has just announced that SoundExchange has decided to audit Last.FM.  Based on a number of public statements, SoundExchange has been citing Last.FM as an example of problems with royalties – contending that Last.FM had paid royalties of only a couple of thousand dollars a year, under the Small Webcasters Settlement Act, just before selling out to CBS for over $200 million.  Given SoundExchange’s tough talk about Last.FM, this notice of an audit is not surprising.  SoundExchange’s focus on this company illustrates the difficulty of valuing music use, and the different perceptions of music users and copyright holders as to what that value should be.

 In past years, SoundExchange has audited a number of webcasters – usually large webcasters.  As SoundExchange must bear the cost of the audit unless a significant underpayment is discovered, it is unlikely that more than a few companies will be audited each year.  However, as SoundExchange has made such a big deal of Last.FM, with witnesses on performance royalty issues mentioning it at Congressional hearings, and representatives mentioning it on various industry conferences (including SoundExchange President John Simson’s reference to the company on a panel on which we jointly appeared at Canadian Music Week earlier this month), many expected that an audit would be forthcoming.

Continue Reading SoundExchange to Audit Internet Radio Royalty Payments of Last.FM – What is the Value of Music?

In a pre-Christmas surprise that most broadcasters could do without, identical bills were introduced in Congress on Tuesday proposing to impose a performance royalty on the use of sound recordings by terrestrial radio stations.  Currently, broadcasters pay only for the right to use the composition (to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) and do not pay for the use of sound recordings in their over-the-air operations of the actual recording.  This long-expected bill (see our coverage of the Congressional hearing this summer where the bill was discussed) will no doubt fuel new debate over the need and justification for this new fee, 50% of which would go to the copyright holder of the sound recording (usually the record label) and 50% to the artists (45% to the featured artist and 5% to background musicians).  The proponents of the bill have contended that it is necessary to achieve fairness, as digital music services pay such a fee.  To ease the shock of the transition, the bill proposes flat fees for small and noncommercial broadcasters – fees which themselves undercut the notion of fairness, as they are far lower than fees for comparable digital services.   

While, at the time that this post was written, a complete text of the decision does not seem to be online, a summary can be found on the website of Senator Leahy, one of the bills cosponsors.  The summary states that commercial radio stations with revenues of less than $1.25 million (supposedly over 70% of all radio stations) would pay a flat $5000 per station fee.  Noncommercial stations would pay a flat $1000 annual fee.  The bill also suggests that the fee not affect the amount paid to composers under current rules – so it would be one that would be absorbed by the broadcaster. 

Continue Reading Bill Seeking Broadcast Performance Royalty Introduced In Congress

The Copyright Royalty Board today announced that it is taking comments on a settlement to establish royalties for the use of sound recordings to be paid by companies that are planning to provide audio services to be delivered with satellite and cable programming.  In contrast to the "preexisting subscription services" who were in existence at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998, who recently reached a settlement agreeing to pay 7 to 7.5% of gross revenues for royalties (see our post, here), this settlement is with "New Subscription Services" which did not offer these kinds of subscription services in 1998.  This settlement does not apply to subscription services provided through the Internet.  The covered "new subscription services" have agreed to pay the greater of 15% of revenue or a per subscriber fee that will escalate over the 5 years that the agreement is in effect.  Given that these new services will be providing essentially the same service as the Preexisting Services, why the difference in rate?  Perhaps, it is because the difference in the law.

As we wrote earlier this week, the Preexisting Satellite Service pay royalties set based on the standards of Section 801(b) of the Copyright Act, which takes into account a number of factors including the interest of the public in getting access to copyrighted material, the relative contributions and financial risks of the parties in distributing the copyrighted material, the stability of the industry, and the right of the copyright holder to get a fair return on their intellectual property.  By contrast, the new subscription services who entered into the settlement just announced, who weren’t around at the time of the drafting of the DMCA, use the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard also used for Internet radio.  And, because of the applicability of the willing buyer willing seller standard and the apparent uncertainties of the litigation process using it, these new services apparently decided to agree to a royalty double that of the preexisting services, even though they provide essentially the same service.

Continue Reading Another Proposed Settlement of Another Copyright Royalty Board Proceeding – New Subscription Services