A settlement under the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 was signed today by SoundExchange and a group of webcasters that I represented in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding to determine the royalty rates for the use of sound recordings by Internet Radio stations for the period from 2006-2010. This agreement is for “pureplay” webcasters, i.e. those that are willing to include their entire gross revenue in a percentage of revenue calculation to determine their royalties. As permitted under the terms of the WSA, this agreement not only reaches back to set rates different, and substantially lower, than those that were arrived at by the CRB for the period from 2006-2010, but also resolves the rates for 2011-2015, relieving webcasters who join the deal from having to litigate another CRB proceeding to set the rates for those years. 

While no deal arrived at under the circumstances in which these webcasters found themselves (a CRB decision that did not set any percentage of revenue royalty rate and would seemingly put these webcasters out of business, the prospect of a new CRB proceeding that would costs significant sums to litigate with no guarantee of success, and with the only other current option being the “microcasters” deal unilaterally advanced by SoundExchange that severely limited the amount of streaming that a webcaster could do and imposed significant “recapture provisions” in the event of a sale of the webcaster’s business) may not be ideal, the settlement does provide significant benefits over any other existing option for any webcaster who qualifies under its provisions. These deal points are set out below.


Continue Reading Pureplay Webcasters and SoundExchange Enter Into Deal Under Webcaster Settlement Act to Offer Internet Radio Royalty Rate Alternative for 2006-2015

The MusicFirst coalition last week asked that the FCC investigate broadcast stations that allegedly cut back on playing the music of artists who back a broadcast performance royalty, and also those stations who have run spots on the air opposing the performance royalty without giving the supporters of the royalty an opportunity to respond.  While the NAB and many other observers have suggested that the filing is simply wrong on its facts, pointing for instance to the current chart-topping position of the Black Eyed Peas whose lead singer has been a vocal supporter of the royalty, it seems to me that there is an even more fundamental issue at stake here – the First Amendment rights of broadcasters.  What the petition is really saying is that the government should impose a requirement on broadcasters that they not speak out on an issue of fundamental importance to their industry.  The petition seems to argue that the rights of performers (and record labels) to seek money from broadcasters is of such importance that the First Amendment rights of broadcasters to speak out against that royalty should be abridged.

While the MusicFirst petition claims that it neither seeks to abridge the First Amendment rights of broadcasters nor to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, it is hard credit that claim.  After all, the petition goes directly to the heart of the broadcasters ability to speak out on the topic, and seems to want to mandate that broadcasters present the opposing side of the issue, the very purpose of the Fairness Doctrine.  As we’ve written, the Fairness Doctrine was abolished as an unconstitutional abridgment on the broadcaster’s First Amendment rights 20 years ago.  As an outgrowth of this decision, FCC and Court decisions concluded that broadcasters have the right to editorialize on controversial issues, free of any obligation to present opposing viewpoints.  What is it that makes this case different?


Continue Reading MusicFirst’s Complaint to the FCC: The First Amendment and the Performance Royalty

The US Senate yesterday passed the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009, following House passage 10 days ago.  Once the Act receives the signature of President Obama, the law will go into effect, and give webcasting groups and the recording industry 30 days to reach a settlement (or settlements) on Internet radio music royalties for the

In recent months, SESAC has been writing letters to broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet, asking for royalties for the performance of SESAC music on their websites.  More than one broadcaster has asked me why they have any obligation to SESAC when they are already paying SoundExchange for the music that they stream.  In fact, SoundExchange and SESAC are paid for different rights, and thus the payments to SoundExchange have no impact on the obligations that are owed to SESAC.  SESAC, along with ASCAP and BMI, represent the composers of music in collecting royalties for the public performance of their compositions.  SoundExchange, on the other hand, represents the performers of the music (and the copyright holders in those performances – usually the record companies).  In the online digital world, the SoundExchange fees cover the public performance of these recordings by particular performers (referred to as "sound recordings").  For an Internet radio company, or the online stream of a terrestrial radio station, payments must be made for both the composition and the sound recording. 

To illustrate the difference between the two rights, let’s look at an example.  On a CD released a few years ago, singer Madeleine Peyroux did a cover version of the Bob Dylan song "You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go."  For that song, the public performance of the composition (i.e. Dylan’s words and music) is licensed through SESAC.  The actual "sound recording" of Peyroux’s version of the song would be licensed through SoundExchange, with the royalties being split between Peyroux and her record label (with backing singers and musicians receiving a small share of the SoundExchange royalty). 


Continue Reading SoundExchange Fees Don’t Cover SESAC Obligations

The Copyright Royalty Board today published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the start of its next proceeding to set the royalties to be paid by Internet radio operators for the performance rights to use "sound recordings" (a particular recording of a song as performed by a particular performer) pursuant to the statutory royalty.  As we’ve written extensively on this blog, the statutory royalty allows an Internet radio station to use any publicly released recording of a song without the permission of the copyright owner (usually the record company) or the artist who is recorded, as long as the station’s owner pays the royalty – currently collected by SoundExchange.  In 2007, the Copyright Royalty Board set the royalties for 2006-2010, a decision which prompted much controversy and is still under appeal.  In the Notice released today, the CRB set February 4 as the deadline for filing a Petition to Participate in the proceeding to set the royalties for the next 5 year period.

The 2006-2010 royalties are currently the subject of negotiations as the parties to the last proceeding attempt to come to a voluntary settlement to set royalties that are different than those established by the CRB decision.  The Webcasting Settlement Act (which we summarized here) gives webcasters until February 15 to reach an agreement as to rates that would become an alternative to the rates that the CRB established.  The Act also permits parties to reach deals that are available not only for the 2006-2010 period, but also allows the deals to cover the period from 2011-2016.  Thus, theoretically, webcasters could all reach agreements with SoundExchange to establish rates that cover the next royalty period, obviating the need for the proceeding of which the CRB just gave notice.  But, as is so often the case, those settlements may not be reached (if they are) until the last minute – so parties may need to file their Petitions to Participate before they know whether a settlement has been achieved.


Continue Reading Here We Go Again – Copyright Royalty Board Announces Date for Filing to Particpate in Proceeding to Set Webcasting Royalties for 2011-2015

We’ve previously written about the value of music in connection with the royalties to be paid by Internet Radio and the performance royalty (or "performance tax" as it’s labeled by the NAB) proposed for broadcasters. One of the questions that has always been raised in any debate about royalties, and one often dismissed by the record industry, is to what extent is there a promotional value of having music played on the radio or streamed by a webcaster.  In discussions of the broadcast performance royalty, record company representatives have suggested that, whether or not there is promotional value of the broadcast of music, that should have no impact on whether the royalty is paid. Instead, argue the record companies, the creator of music deserves to be paid whether or not there is some promotional value. The analogy is often made to sports teams – that the teams get promotional value by having their games broadcast but are nevertheless paid by stations for the rights to such games. The argument is that music should be no different. That contention, that the artist deserves to be paid whether or not there is promotional value may be tested in connection with what was once thought to be an unlikely source of promotional value for music – the video game Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero, in its various versions released over the last few years, has proven to be a very effective tool for the promotion of music – with various classic rock bands experiencing significant sales growth whenever their songs are featured on a new version of the game. The use of a sound recording in a video game is not subject to any sort of statutory royalty – the game maker must receive a license negotiated with the copyright holder of the recording – usually the record company.  In previous editions of the game, Guitar Hero has paid for music rights. However, now that the game has proved its value in promoting the sale of music, the head of Activision, the company that owns the game, has suggested in a Wall Street Journal interview that it should be the record companies that are paying him to include the music in the game – and no doubt many artists would gladly do so for the promotional value they realize from the game. 


Continue Reading Will Guitar Hero Show the Promotional Value of Music and Change the Music Royalty Outlook?

Both the House and the Senate have now approved the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, which will become law when it is signed by the President. Just what does this bill do? It does not announce a settlement of the contentious Internet Radio royalty dispute, about which we have extensively written here. It does not change the standard for judging Internet radio royalties, as had been proposed in the Internet Radio Equality Act, introduced last year and now seemingly dead in the waning days of this Congress, and in the Perform Act, about which we wrote here (the IREA and the Perform Act proposed different standards – the first more favorable to webcasters and the second more favorable to SoundExchange). These issues will seemingly be left to be disputed in a future Congress. Instead, the Webcaster Settlement Act seems to only adopt a simplified process for the approval of settlements that may be reached by the parties on or before February 15, 2009 – a settlement process that had been previously used in the Small Webcaster Settlement Act (the language of which this bill amends).

What is the significance of these new settlement processes? Under current law, any settlement between any group of webcasters and SoundExchange could only be binding on the entire universe of sound recording copyright holders if that settlement was approved by the Copyright Royalty Board. If an agreement is not binding on all copyright holders, then the reason for the statutory royalty – being able to pay one entity and get access to all the music in the world – would not be met.  The current procedures for approving settlements seem to contemplate such settlements only before a decision on royalties is reached by the CRB.   While some have speculated that the Court of Appeals that is currently considering the CRB appeal could remand the case to the CRB to effectuate a settlement and force the CRB to address it, that is by no means certain. For instance, the large webcasters, through their organization DiMA, reached a settlement with SoundExchange to cap minimum fees at $50,000 per webcaster. In their briefs filed with the Court of Appeals, both DiMA and SoundExchange have asked the Court to remand that aspect of the case to the CRB for adoption – yet that request has been opposed by the Department of Justice acting on behalf of the CRB. Thus, voluntary settlements may not be easy to obtain.


Continue Reading Webcaster Settlement Act – What Does It Mean?

Last week, we wrote about one issue that was addressed at last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on music royalties – the standards used to derive the royalties, and expressed hope that there was at least some interest in compromise on behalf of the Senators and industry representatives.  However, another issue which came out of those hearings suggests that compromise may not be so easy if the parties really believe what they say – as there is a fundamental distinction in both how the parties view the health of the Internet radio business, and how they view the relationship between royalties and the music business generally.  One can only hope that the gulf that was evident was just due to public posturing as, if it was not, there may well be an insurmountable differences between the parties that cannot be bridged in any settlement negotiations over the royalties that Internet radio pays for the use of sound recordings.

The gap became evident from the opening statements of the first panel – comprised of two Senators interested in the issue- Senator Wyden on behalf of the Internet Radio Equality Act stating that it was necessary to avoid having the high royalties decided by the Copyright Royalty Board destroy a fledgling technology, while Senator Corker of Tennessee talked about the importance of music to radio and the exhaustive process that the CRB had gone through in arriving at the royalties that it approved.  But in the day’s principal panel, the issues became crystal clear, as John Simson of SoundExchange talked about the "vibrant" business of Internet radio, citing an analyst’s report that Internet radio would be a $20 billion advertising market by 2020, and the statement of an employee of CBS that Internet radio was a great business and that CBS was going to "own it."  Speaking next, Joe Kennedy, CEO of Internet radio company Pandora had a dramatically different perspective – talking about an industry analyst who stated that the royalties that would result from the CRB royalties would exceed the revenue of the Internet Radio industry, and that, for Pandora, the failure to find a compromise solution to the CRB-imposed royalties would mean that his service would "die."  He pointed to Pandora’s position as the largest of the Internet radio companies in terms of listenership, the $25 million in revenue that it expects to make this year, and how $18,000,000 of that would go just to the SoundExchange royalties – 75% of its revenue to this one expense. 


Continue Reading Senate Hearing: The Search for Compromise on Music Performance Royalties – Part Two: The Issue of Perspective

Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the sound recording performance royalty, titling the hearing  "Music and Radio in the 21st Century: Assuring Fair Rates and Rules Across Platforms" (a webcast of which can be accessed here).  While the hearing was ostensibly to search for a way to come up with a uniform system of determining music royalties across various digital media platforms (though the broadcast analog performance royalty snuck into the discussion from time to time), in reality it appeared to be two things – a search for compromise and a demonstration of the dramatically different perspectives from which the recording industry and the digital radio industry approach the topic.  While one might assume that the dramatically different approaches would mean that no compromise was possible, there were a few areas of commonality that perhaps reflect the potential that, at some point, common ground can be found.  We will review the hearing’s discussions in multiple parts – today dealing with the issue of the standard to be used in assessing royalties for the public performance of sound recordings and, in a subsequent post, we will summarize the differing world views of the participants and why the dramatically different ways that they see the business make for difficulty in compromise.

But first, a summary of the issues that were to be discussed at the hearing. Essentially, the hearing was to discuss two bills addressing different aspects of the royalty issues.  Senator Feinstein of California, who chaired the hearing, was looking for any common ground that might exist that would allow for movement on the Perform Act that she has introduced.  That act would attempt to do two things – (1) assure that a common standard was used to assess sound recording royalties in all digital media and (2) adopt standards that would require digital services to use some form of security or encryption that would make "stream ripping" more difficult.  The first goal of her bill, looking for a common standard, was an attempt to avoid some of the problems that have been evident in the royalty proceedings that have thus far been held before the Copyright Royalty Board which have resulted in dramatically different royalties – ranging from 6 to 8% of revenue for satellite radio companies and a similar royalty for digital cable music services (see our posts on those rates here and here) derived under an "801(b) standard" (after section 801b of the Copyright Act) , and the royalty for Internet radio that has been estimated to range between 75% and 300% of gross revenues of those services, derived from a "willing buyer, willing seller" royalty standard.  The Perform Act would subject all to a single standard – and it currently proposes a new standard – "fair market value."


Continue Reading Senate Hearing: The Search for Compromise on Music Performance Royalties – Part One: The Issue of Standards

The FCC has released a Public Notice announcing its approval of the XM and Sirius satellite radio merger.  The public notice is only two pages long, with a four page appendix providing very brief summaries of the conditions imposed on the two companies which a majority of the Commissioners found sufficient to protect consumers from harm from the merged entity.  The full text of the decision, providing the full reasoning of the Commission on its approval, has not yet been released.  Until it is, the impact for broadcast ownership and the treatment of broadcast consolidation set by the precedent of this decision remains unclear.

The conditions placed on the merger and outlined by the decision include some surprising ones beneficial to broadcasters, including that the merged company not use its terrestrial repeaters to originate local broadcasts and that the company not enter into exclusive agreements precluding the broadcast of local sporting events by over-the-air broadcast stations.  The decision also imposed price caps on the service for three years, and set out conditions to open the manufacturing of satellite radio receivers to more companies and prohibiting any restriction on combining the radio receiver with other audio devices including digital radio receivers.  No condition requiring that satellite radio receivers be capable of picking up over-the-air digital radio ("HD Radio") was imposed, though the FCC promised to issue a Notice of Inquiry to review that issue.  Specific programming channels will be made available for noncommercial educational use and for leased access.  The FCC also made clear that satellite radio will be subject to the FCC’s EEO rules.


Continue Reading FCC Releases Public Notice of Decision Approving XM-Sirius Merger – Precedent for Broadcast Ownership Not Yet Clear