The full decision of the Copyright Royalty Board setting the royalty rates to be paid to SoundExchange by Sirius XM and Music Choice from 2013 through 2017 has now been released. We wrote about the initial release of the summary of the decision before Christmas. The final decision is interesting in many respects. First, it is the first decision to be released since two of the original three Copyright Royalty Judges left the bench. The decision, as released was actually two decisions – one signed by the new Chief Judge and an acting judge who filled in for Judge Wisniewski, the Board’s economic expert, when he had to retire for health reasons. The second decision, reaching the same result but based on different reasoning, was signed by the Board’s lone holdover, Judge Roberts, a long-time fixture at the Copyright Office before joining the Board. In addition, the decision seems to reject some premises that had long been used to justify royalty rates in other proceedings – and thus may give some insights on approaches to be used in the webcasting royalty proceeding that will begin in 2014 and conclude in 2015. The majority decision also, for the first time, gives at least some weight to direct licensing deals for the public performance of sound recordings by a noninteractive service. Finally, the decision provides explicitly for carve-outs from the established royalties for music on which no royalties need to be paid, including music that is directly licensed, and for pre-1972 sound recordings.
Before looking at the decision, it needs to be noted that these royalties are theoretically decided not just for Sirius XM and for Music Choice, but also for other services that fit into their class of service as defined by Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act. Thus, the Music Choice decision applied theoretically to all "Preexisting Subscription Services" (or a "PSS") and the Sirius XM decision to all "preexisting satellite digital audio services" (or, as used in the decision, "SDARS" – satellite digital audio services). The "pre-existing language means that these services were either in existence or authorized by the FCC (for the SDARS services) at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998. Of course, since 1998, all of Music Choices then-existing competitors in the cable audio business have gone out of business with one exception, and the second SDARS service – XM Radio – has merged with Sirius. So, effectively, these rates apply only to very few companies.