While it seems like we just finished the election season, it seems like there is always an election somewhere.  We are still getting calls about municipal and other state and local elections that are underway.  And broadcasters need to remember that these elections, like the Federal elections that we’ve just been through, are subject to the FCC’s equal time (or "equal opportunities") rule.  The requirement that lowest unit rates be applied in the 45 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election also apply to these elections.  "Reasonable access," however, does not apply to state and local candidates – meaning that stations can refuse to take advertising for state and local elections (unlike for Federal elections where candidates must be given the right to buy spots in all classes and dayparts on a station), as long as all candidates for the same office are treated in the same way. So stations can take ads for State Senate candidates, and refuse to take ads for city council, or restrict those ads to overnight hours, as long as all candidates who are running against each other are treated in the same way.

One issue that arises surprisingly often is the issue of the station employee who runs for local office.  An employee who appears on the air, and who decides to become a candidate for public office, will give rise to a station obligation to give equal opportunities to other candidates for that same office – free time equal to the amount of time that the employee’s recognizable voice or likeness appeared on the air.  While a station can take the employee off the air to avoid obligations for equal opportunities, there are other options for a station.  See our post here on some of those options.


Continue Reading Reminder: Equal Time and Lowest Unit Rate Rules Apply to State and Municipal Elections

The Copyright Office today issued an Order extending the dates for comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to determine if, in addition to royalties to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of a musical composition, a royalty is also be due for reproductions of the composition made by real-time webcasting such as

Broadcasters and other digital media companies have recently been focused on the royalties that are to be charged by the record labels for public performance of a sound recording in a digital transmission (under the Section 114 compulsory license administered by SoundExchange).  In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued this week, the Copyright Office tentatively concludes that there could be yet another royalty due for streaming – a royalty to be paid to music publishers for the reproductions of the musical compositions being made in the streaming process under Section 115 of the Copyright Act.  This notice was released just as the Copyright Royalty Board is concluding its proceeding to determine the rates that are to be paid for the Section 115 royalty.  While there have been reports of a settlement of some portions of that proceeding, the details of any settlement is not public, so whether it even contemplated noninteractive streaming as part of the agreement is unknown.

How did the Copyright Office reach its tentative conclusion?  First, some background.  The Office for years has been struggling with the question of just what the section 115 royalty covered.  Traditionally, the royalty was paid by record companies to the music publishers for rights to use the compositions in the pressing of records.  This was referred to as the "mechanical royalty" paid for the rights to reproduce and distribute the composition used in a making copies of a sound recording (a record, tape or CD).  These copies were referred to as "phonorecords."  However, in the digital world, things get more complicated, as there is not necessarily a tangible copy being made when there is a reproduction of a sound recording.  Thus, Congress came up with the concept of a Digital Phonorecord Delivery (a "DPD") as essentially the equivalent of the tangible phonorecord.  But just what is a DPD?


Continue Reading Copyright Office Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking That Could Make Section 115 Royalty Applicable to Internet Radio

Last week, the Office of Management and Budget determined that the FCC’s new rules on Leased Access to cable channels (see our bulletin describing those rules) violated the Paperwork Reduction Act. This means that the new rules, which would have significantly lowered the cost for parties who wanted to lease cable channels to provide their own programming, will be sent back to the FCC for further consideration.  These rules are also on appeal to the Courts, which had stayed the effectiveness of the rules while the appeal is being considered, which is usually a good indication that the Court had issues with the rules as well.  The OMB action has the effect of returning the rules back to the FCC to be considered anew in light of the OMB findings.  Our firm has prepared a memo detailing the decision, here.  Given the OMB decision that these rules imposed too great a burden on cable systems, one wonders if this decision portends a similar result when the OMB reviews the FCC’s rules on Enhanced Disclosure and an on-line public inspection file – rules that would impose a significant burden on television broadcasters (about which we wrote here).

The OMB decision on the leased access rules highlighted some of the perceived shortcomings of the FCC decision, including that the FCC had not shown that they had taken steps to minimize the burden on companies who would have to hire staff to comply with the new rules, and they had not provided reasons why reduced timeframes for responses to requests for leased access were necessary.  Looking at these standards, one would have to think that much of the same reasoning would apply to the FCC’s Enhanced Disclosure requirements for TV stations as set out in the new Form 355.  The completion of the Form would clearly require the hiring of new staff.  We’ve also questioned whether the Commission has given any justification for the increased paperwork requirements, as the information itself has no regulatory purpose as the FCC has not adopted any quantitative standards for public interest programming.  With no purpose and increased costs, how could the OMB treat the enhanced disclosure requirements differently than it did the leased access requirements?


Continue Reading OMB Throws Out Leased Access Rules as Violation of Paperwork Reduction Act – Will TV Enhanced Disclosure Be Next?

As the digital television transition continues, broadcasters have been concerned about the proposals made by a number of the major computer companies seeking the right to operate low power wireless devices in the spectrum used by television stations – in the so-called "white spaces" between channels. Because of the potential for interference, television obviously don’t operate on every channel in every city. The proposal by the tech companies, about which we wrote here, would allow unlicensed wireless devices to operate at low power within this spectrum, provided that such devices were “smart” enough to detect television signals and to avoid the use of channels that would interfere with these signals. Last week, the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology issued a report finding that the prototypes of these devices that had been made available for testing appeared to interfere with television signals. The report did note, however, that this testing should not be viewed as the end of the story on this issue, as further refinements to the devices might be able to eliminate the interference. The FCC has asked for comment on this report. Public comments are due on August 15, with replies on August 30.

The white spaces debate has been a very contentious one. The tech companies who favor it have argued that the efficient use of the television spectrum, and the congestion in other portions of the spectrum used by unlicensed devices, mandate attempts to allow these devices to operate in the television band on the condition that they do not interfere with TV uses. These companies contend that they should be able to create devices that can sense television stations and avoid interference to these stations.


Continue Reading FCC Study Deals Blow to Television White Space Advocates