The NAB Radio Board today voted to adopt a Terms Sheet to offer to the musicFirst Coalition which, if agreed to by musicFirst and adopted by Congress, will settle the contentious issue of whether to impose a sound recording performance royalty (the "performance tax") on over-the-air broadcasters.  If adopted, that will mean that broadcasters in the United States, for the first time, will pay a royalty to artists and record labels, in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC that go to the composers of the music.  What does the Term Sheet provide, and what will this mean for broadcasters, webcasters and others who pay music royalties?

The Term Sheet sets out a number of points, including the following:

  • A 1% of gross revenue sound recording royalty to be paid to SoundExchange
  • A phase-in period for the 1% royalty, that will be tied to the number of mobile phones that contain an FM chip.  A royalty of one-quarter of one percent would take effect immediately upon the effective date of the legislation adopting it.  The royalty would rise in proportion to the number of mobile phones with enabled FM chips.  Once the percentage of phones with FM chips reached 75%, the full royalty would take effect.
  • The 1% royalty could only be changed by Congressional action.
  • The royalty would be lower for noncommercial stations and stations with less than $1.25 million in revenue – from a flat $5000 for stations making between $500,000 and $1.25 million in revenue down to $100 for those making less than $50,000 per year.
  • Broadcasters would also get a reduction in their streaming rates – but only when FM chips in mobile phones exceed 50% penetration.  The reduction would be tied to the rates paid by "pureplay webcasters" (see our summary of the Pureplay webcasters deal here), but would be set at a level significantly higher than pureplay webcasters, rising from $.001775 in 2011 (if FM chips were quickly deployed) to $.0021575.
  • Future streaming royalties would not be set by the Copyright Royalty Board but by a legislatively ordered rate court – presumably a US District Court similar to that which hears royalty disputes for ASCAP and BMI.
  • An acknowledgment by AFTRA that broadcasters can stream their signal on the Internet in their entirety – apparently agreeing to relieve broadcasters from any liability for the additional amounts due to union artists when commercials featuring union talent are streamed
  • An agreement that broadcasters can directly license music from artists and reduce their  liability for the new royalty by the percentage of music that the broadcasters is able to directly license
  • Agreements to "fix" issues in Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act in making the provisions of these laws regarding ephemeral copies and the performance complement consistent with the waivers that major record labels gave to broadcasters when the NAB reached its settlement with SoundExchange on streaming royalties last year.  See our post here on the provisions of those waivers.
  • musicFirst would need to acknowledge the promotional effect of radio in promoting new music, and would need to work with radio in attempting to secure legislation mandating the FM chip in mobile phones.

[Clarification – 10/26/2010 – Upon a close reading of the Terms Sheet, it looks like the phase in of the 1% royalty and the delay in the streaming discount only kick in if Congress does not mandate active FM chips in cell phones.  If the mandate is enacted, then the full 1% royalty and streaming discount is effective immediately. Given the opposition of much of the wireless industry to a mandated FM chip, this may represent a recognition that the legislation requiring the active FM chip will not be enacted in the near future]

What does this all mean?


Continue Reading NAB Radio Board Adopts Proposal for Settlement of Performance Tax Issue – Where Do We Go From Here?

Once again, the extension of the sound recording performance royalty to broadcasters has become a hot topic in Washington. The subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property of the  House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the bill introduced by Congressman Berman (about which we first reported here).  That bill would include broadcasters in the Section 114 sound recoding royalty currently applicable to digital music users including Internet radio, satellite radio and cable radio. Under the bill, the Copyright Royalty Board would be charged with the responsibility of determining what a royalty would be using the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard. Following this subcommittee approval, the bill would next be considered by the full committee. To become law, the Committee and the full House of Representatives would have to approve it, and similar legislation would need to be enacted by the Senate. As the NAB has garnered the support of a majority of the members of the House on a non-binding resolution opposing the imposition of the royalty on broadcasters, and as there is not much time remaining in the legislative session before the election and the end of this Congress, the whole process may well have to start fresh in 2009 (bills have to be reintroduced after the end of each two-year Congressional session). Yet, with all of the controversy over the issue in recent weeks, it appears certain that the issue will arise again, so it is important to look at some of the recent action.

Two weeks ago, the House subcommittee held a hearing on the issue. Prior to the hearing, the MusicFirst Coalition (principally supported by the RIAA and the affiliated record companies as 50% of any royalty goes to the copyright holders who are usually the labels) had Nancy Sinatra and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band making the rounds on Capitol Hill in support of the royalty. These appearances follow the precedent set in earlier Capitol Hill proceedings, where the Coalition has brought in niche or oldies artists to address Congress – not major popular current acts. The artists who have testified (who have included Judy Collins, Sam Moore, Lyle Lovett, and Alice Peacock) have argued that the additional income that they would receive from a performance royalty would supplement their incomes which, in some cases, has either never been great or has declined as the demand or ability to tour has declined. The argument is always made that the royalty will encourage musicians to produce their music – though it is rarely if ever claimed that music wouldn’t be made if the royalty is not adopted, as songs have been written and sung for time immemorial, well before any royalty existed, merely for the pleasure or to fulfill the need for self-expression. The question is not one of ensuring the availability of music, but instead it is one about who should get how much of whatever money is made, directly or indirectly, from the use of that music. 


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty Passes House Subcommittee – But It’s Not Done Yet

On Friday, in a number of publications, a story was carried questioning the claims made by the NAB that the broadcast performance royalty being sought by the music industry could amount to 10-35% of the revenue of the radio industry.  A post on the Wired Listening Post blog seemed to have started the story.  This is the royalty which would be paid to the copyright holders in the sound recording – and would be in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the composers of music (see our post on the topic, here and here) .  Wired quoted a spokesman for the Music First Coalition (the music industry coalition seeking the performance royalty) claiming that the NAB’s claims are overstated – and that any broadcast royalty to be paid to sound recording copyright holders would be similar to those paid in Europe for the use of sound recordings, and similar to the amounts currently paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the use of the musical compositions, in the range of 3-5% of revenues. Only the Radio and Internet Newsletter seemed to question this statement.  From looking at the history of SoundExchange’s claims made in other royalty proceedings, the questions raised by RAIN seem entirely justified.  SoundExchange has consistently argued in connection with all of the other on-going royalty proceedings that the sound recording royalty is far more valuable than the composition royalty – asking for a royalty over 6 times the amount of the composition royalty – 30% of gross revenues.  How can Music First now contend that the royalty will be only a few percent of revenue, when their representaives have consistently requested royalties many multiples of that amount?

At the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the broadcast performance royalty (see our post, here), when committee members asked how much the royalty would be, Marybeth Peters, the Register of Copyrights, suggested that it could a simple matter of applying the "willing buyer, willing seller" criteria of Section 114 of the Copyright Act to broadcasting.  That standard is exactly the same one that led to the current Internet radio royalties which have been so controversial (see our coverage here).  In that proceeding, SoundExchange had asked for royalties of the greater of the per performance royalty that the Copyright Royalty Board imposed or 30% of gross revenue.  While the Copyright Royalty Board did not adopt a percentage of revenue royalty because they feared that it was too difficult to compute for services that had multiple revenue streams, most observers have estimated that the pe performance royalty exceeds 100% of revenue of the small commercial webcasters, and are close to 100% of revenue even for the Internet radio services provided by the major Internet content companies.  In making their offer of a "special deal" to Small Commercial Webcasters on May 23, with royalties between 10 and 12% of gross revenue, SoundExchange specifically stated that it thought that the 10-12% rate was "a below-market rate to subsidize small webcasters … to help small operators get a stronger foothold" in developing their businesses.  While 10% is suggested to be a "below market" rate in an immature industry still struggling to find a business model, the Music First Coalition now suggests that a royalty less than half that amount is what they would request for broadcast radio.


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty – Getting Fooled Again?