Broadcasters beware – podcasts with music may be dangerous to your economic health.  In recent weeks, I’ve come upon more than one incident where a broadcaster was providing podcasts containing music on their website, or allowing listeners to download or stream on-demand some new, hot song.  I’ve even seen certain articles in the trade press advocating that stations do podcasts of their morning shows, or otherwise provide some sort of programming containing music on their websites in a manner in which the listener can listen over and over again to the same program or song.  Broadcasters need to know that they are asking for trouble when they provide services like podcasts, downloads and on-demand streams containing music without getting specific permission from copyright holders to do so, as these uses are not covered by the SoundExchange royalties paid for webcasting, nor (in most cases) by your ASCAP, BMI and SESAC royalties.  

The royalties paid to SoundExchange are for the right to publicly perform sound recordings in a noninteractive manner.  In other words, they only cover streams where the user cannot get a specific song when they want it, and where listeners do not know the order in which songs will be played.  ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (the "PROs") also cover public performances, but of the underlying musical compositions (the words and music of the song, as opposed to its recording by a particular singer or band).  By contrast, “podcasts,” ( and here I mean an on-demand program that can be downloaded onto a digital device for later replay, and which can also usually be played immediately on someone’s computer) are much like downloads – and involve a different right in music – the right to reproduce and distribute the music.  The rights of reproduction and distribution are different from the public performance right, and the permission to make reproductions and distributions are granted by different groups than are the public performance right.  SoundExchange and the PROs have nothing to do with granting this reproduction and distribution right (with the limited exception of ephemeral rights in streaming granted through the SoundExchange royalty – a concept too technical to be discussed here, and one that does not affect this warning.  But, if you are interested in these rights, you can see our article that discussed ephemeral rights in a bit more detail, here).  Podcasts, downloads and on-demand streams require a specific grant of rights from the copyright holders of the sound recordings and the musical compositions for each piece of music that is being used. 


Continue Reading Beware – Music Use in Podcasts, Downloads and On-Demand Streams are Not Covered By Your SoundExchange Royalties

While we have written much about the battle over the broadcast performance royalty (or the "performance tax" as broadcasters call it) – whether broadcasters will have to pay artists and record labels for the right to play their music on the air – we have not written much about another looming issue with the royalties that broadcasters must pay to play music on their stations.  While broadcasters are very familiar with the ASCAP and BMI royalties, they may not be fully aware that there is a looming dispute over the amount that broadcasters will pay to these organizations in the near future.  At a panel that I moderated at the NAB Radio Show, Bill Velez, the head of the Radio Music Licensing Committee, talked about the current negotiations for the renewal of the royalty agreements between radio stations and these two Performing Rights Organizations ("PROs").  Both of the current agreements expire at the end of this year, and the RMLC is in the process of trying to negotiate new agreements.  However, because many broadcasters feel that the current deals charge more for these music rights than is justified in the current economic environment, while the PROs are reluctant to decrease the royalties that the composers they represent currently receive, the differing perceptions of the value of these rights could lead to litigation over the amount that should be paid by broadcasters for the use of this music.

First, it is important to understand what rights ASCAP and BMI are providing. These organizations, along with SESAC (about which we have written here), provide the copyright license for the "public performance" of the "musical work" or the composition, the words and musical notes to a song.  This is in contrast to the rights to the sound recording (the song as performed and recorded by a specific artist), which is licensed by SoundExchange.  Webcasters have to pay ASCAP and BMI for the use of the composition, as well as paying SoundExchange for the use of the sound recording when streaming music on the Internet.  Broadcasters only have the obligation to pay ASCAP,BMI and SESAC for the composition in connection with their over the air broadcasts but do not, under the current law (unless the broadcast performance royalty is passed), have to pay SoundExchange.  Because the current ASCAP and BMI royalties have been in place for several years, most broadcasters probably don’t think much about them, but they may have to in the near future.


Continue Reading ASCAP and BMI – Another Royalty Battle for Broadcasters?

If you are a broadcaster, you know that it’s not going to be a good day when you walk into a hearing on the possible extension of the performance royalty in sound recordings to over-the-air broadcasters and see buttons saying "I Support a Performance Right NOW" on the lapels of every other witness on the panel – including the Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters.  But that was the scene in Washington, as the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property held a hearing as to whether the right to collect a royalty for the public performance of a sound recording (the actual song as sung by a particular artist, as opposed to the underlying musical composition) should be paid by broadcasters.  Broadcasters in the United States have paid only a royalty on the public performance of the composition (to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC), and have never paid a royalty for the public performance of the sound recording.  The lack of a sound recording royalty has always been justified in the past on the theory that the artists and copyright holders in the sound recording benefit more than composers through the airplay of the sound recording, as they receive the bulk of the proceeds from CD sales, and the performers benefit from the promotion of live performances.  As they benefit from the promotion provided by the airplay of the song, there is no need for any sort of performance royalty.  As the music and radio businesses have both thrived in the United States – more so than anywhere else in the world – it seemed that this arrangement was mutually beneficial.

But, in recent years, the consensus over this mutually beneficial arrangement seems to have broken down.  Starting in 1995, a performance right in sound recordings has been imposed on digital services, including the royalty on Internet radio which has recently been so controversial (and about which we have written so much, here).  And, with the recent downturn in the record companies’ business, additional sources of revenue are being sought – thus the RIAA and SoundExchange, the collective that receives sound recording performance royalties, have started a Congressional push to require the collection of royalties from over-the-air radio.  And that push was reflected in the hearing held on Tuesday before a House Committee that seemed clearly to favor the imposition of this royalty on broadcasters.


Continue Reading House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Broadcast Performance Right – No Breaks for the Broadcasters