As broadcasters pursue their digital future, new legal issues arise to greet their entry into the on-line world and to add to the challenges posed by the new media. Over the last few years, we’ve have written extensively about music rights and their impact on webcasters, broadcasters, and other digital media companies. We’ve talked about patent law issues that have faced digital media companies. And we’ve discussed other content issues, like FTC online sponsorship disclosure requirements, that have arisen from time to time. But the one issue that now seems poised to dominate the legal conversation in coming months (or years) is that of privacy. This past week, we saw Pandora announce that it has received a subpoena from a Federal grand jury in connection with an investigation into the use of information collected from various mobile apps, and whether users of these apps were aware of the use of their private information. Other companies apparently received this same request.  This investigation is but the tip of the iceberg on privacy issues facing media companies operating in the digital world – challenges coming from the courts and from legislative and administrative initiatives in Washington.

Everyone knows that one of the great benefits of the Internet and the many services available on-line and through mobile apps, is the ability to personalize so as to provide a unique listening or viewing experience for every user. Instead of being limited to the linear programming that a broadcast service provides to all users at the same time, users can tailor their digital media experience to give them what they want and, as wireless broadband penetration increases through smart phones and other devices, almost whenever they want it. In some cases, the costs of providing an individualized service, because of bandwidth needs, royalties and license fees and for other reasons, the cost per each additional listener is often higher than that incurred by the traditional media. And online users thus far have been unwilling to tolerate the commercial advertising load that a traditional media experience might provide. To meet these higher marginal costs, and the lower spot loads, many digital media companies have looked to personalization of advertising to allow for higher advertising rates on the theory that advertising will be more efficient if you can guarantee that it will be targeted to reach its intended audience – geographical, demographic or based on expressed interests. As digital media companies have sought to refine the targeting available through their advertising, privacy issues have arisen.

Continue Reading Pandora Gets Subpoena About Mobile App – Privacy, the Next Big Issue for Digital Media Companies

Broadcasters are inevitably moving toward a digital future – exploiting new Internet and mobile platforms to supplement their traditional over-the-air operations.  Last week, I conducted two sessions in Salt Lake City for the Utah Broadcasters Association, one on the legal issues to be considered in connection with broadcasters’ use of the digital media, and a second updating broadcasters on all the legal and regulatory issues that they face from Washington with their over-the-air operations.  Slides from the digital media presentation, Broadcasters Online: Legal Issues in the Cyber Jungle, are available here, and those from the broadcast update, the Top Ten Washington Issues that Should Keep Broadcasters Awake at Night, are available here.

To show how quickly things move in Washington, since the seminar, there have been two new developments that relate to topics discussed at the seminar.  On the day of the seminar, the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau came out with a policy statement about a certification that broadcasters need to include in all of their advertising contracts certifying that the advertising was not sold with a discriminatory purpose – as there will be a specific question about the certification in all license renewal applications.  We have summarized the requirements for the clause to be included in the advertising contract here

Continue Reading Digital Media Issues and a Washington Update for Broadcasters – Presentations to the Utah Broadcasters

As our colleague Brian Hurh wrote recently on our sister blog, the www.broadbandlawadvisor.com, a federal district court last week granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting the mere retransmission of broadcast television programs over the Internet, without more.  The order is not only important for its confirmation of a 2008 Copyright Office decision rejecting Internet retransmission of video

The Commission today released an Order conditionally designating 9 companies to be database administrators for white spaces devices.  As we wrote in our article describing the FCC’s recent decision on reconsideration of its White Spaces order, these administrators will be responsible for maintaining a database of all users of the TV spectrum who must be protected from interference from white spaces devices.  Protected entities include TV stations, LPTV stations and TV translators, cable and satellite receive locations, certain wireless microphone users, and the paths between TV stations and translators.  Each database must maintain all of this information, so that white spaces devices can determine what channels must be protected in areas in which they are operating. 

The conditional nature of the designation reflects the fact that these administrators had requested designation in late 2009, before the recent Order on Reconsideration which adopted the new requirements that all white spaces devices must communicate with these administrators instead of relying on any sort of spectrum sensing.  Thus, the FCC is requiring the proposed administrators to update their filings to reflect that they can meet the new requirements for the maintaining the database.  One of these new requirements is one of security – so that it can be ensured that the users will have an accurate data base from which to operate, without fear of tampering or other abuses.  The FCC will also require that each administrator attend an education session conducted by the FCC, and to go through a rigorous testing period – with tests conducted by the FCC to make sure that the administrator’s service will actually provide the necessary information to protect incumbent TV spectrum users from interference from white spaces devices.

Continue Reading FCC Designates Database Adminstrators for TV White Spaces Devices

The NAB Radio Show in Washington two weeks ago was a upbeat reflection of the present state of the broadcast industry.  But sandwiched around that conference, in the last three weeks, I have spoken at three digital media conferences – and as someone who has grown up on over-the-air radio, and based a career on representing radio stations, the discussions at these conferences raised many questions about the future of the radio industry. At the Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN) Summit East in DC, prior to the NAB Radio Show, I gave a summary of the royalty issues facing Internet Radio operators. At the Future of Music Policy Summit in DC the next week, I spoke on a panel on the Future of Radio. And at the Digital Music Forum West in Los Angeles last week, I moderated a panel on music licensing issue for digital media companies. At each of these conferences, the focus was on the digital media, not on over-the-air broadcasting, and many times the question was raised as to whether traditional radio was still relevant in the digital age. I’m not sure how many times I was asked, when I told someone that I am a lawyer who represents radio stations, what I plan to do next when my clients are extinct? Even in media-related industries, many seem to regard radio broadcasters as old-school – a throw back to some other entertainment era. Yet, what surprised me was how these same people who questioned the relevance of radio were all able to talk about what songs were or were not being played on the local rock station, or about the crazy thing some local DJ said that morning and the contests running on radio stations in their market, or about the story on NPR that kept them in their car seats when they were sitting in their driveway at home the night before.

At each of these conferences, in listening to the discussions of the issues facing all the new media (like how to make money), the dark view of radio seemed overblown.  Radio still seems to be a vital medium, especially if it can emphasize the advantages that it has. Harnessing the power of radio with digital media creates platforms that neither has on its own. In many ways radio, of all the traditional media, is best able to use its place in the media landscape to expand in the digital world. Radio has always excelled in reaching niche audiences, in much the same way that the Internet now does. By playing to its strengths, whether that be music, news, talk or sports, or some combination thereof, radio can expand its connection and provide broader and deeper services to its listeners, and serve its audiences like never before.  And all the digital media companies seem to recognize this potential, but seem to be discounting radio’s ability to capitalize on its advantages. 

Continue Reading Reflections on the State of Radio – A Month of Discussions at The Radio Show, State Broadcasters Meetings and Digital Media Conferences

Dave Oxenford this week conducted a seminar on legal issues facing broadcasters in their digital media efforts.  The seminar was organized by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, and originated before a group of broadcasters in Lansing, but was webcast live to broadcasters in ten other states.  Dave addressed a variety of legal issues for broadcasters in connection with their website operations and other digital media platforms.  These issues included a discussion of service marks and copyrights, employment matters, music on websites, the use of social media, privacy, and sponsorship disclosure.  The slides used in the Lansing presentation are available here.    During the seminar, Dave also mentioned that stations with websites featuring user-generated content, to help insulate themselves from copyright infringement that might occur in the content posted to their website by their audience, should take advantage of the registration with the Copyright Office that may provide safe harbor protection if a station follows the rules and takes down offending content when identified by a copyright holder.  The Copyright Office instructions for registration can be found here.   

One of the most common issues that arise with radio station websites is the streaming of their programming.  In August, Dave gave a presentation to the Texas Association of Broadcasters providing  a step-by-step guide to streaming issues, with a summary of the royalty rates paid by different types of streaming companies.  That summary to Internet Radio issues is available here.  Additional information about use of music on the Internet can be found in Davis Wright Tremaine’s Guide to The Basics of Music Licensing in a Digital Age.   Dave also presented this seminar at the Connecticut Broadcasters Association’s Annual Convention in Hartford on October 14.

Continue Reading David Oxenford Conducts Webinar for State Broadcast Associations on Legal Issues in the Digital Media World – Including a Discussion of Ephemeral Copies of Sound Recordings

Last week, the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force asked for comments on the relationship between the protection of copyrighted content on the Internet and the effect of such protections on technology innovation and the expectations of consumers.  The purpose of the inquiry is to develop a report to be circulated among the various government departments that have power over the enforcement of copyrights and the development of rules and regulations that deal with copyrighted materials – to essentially develop government policy in this area.  While the request for comments dwell on the concerns about copyright infringement that are raised by many Internet applications, the proceeding will obviously be controversial among media companies.  Many of these companies are concerned about the unauthorized use of their content on various websites, while other media companies (or divisions of the same media companies who are concerned about the unauthorized use of content) are concerned about too tight restrictions on the use of copyrighted content and how that will impact various websites, especially those that feature user-generated content.

As we have written before, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allows Internet companies to allow users to post material on their websites, without fear of liability, if they take certain precautions – including adopting terms of use warning users that they need to observe the intellectual property rights of others, not otherwise encouraging infringing uses, registering with the Copyright Office to provide a contact person at the website operator that a copyright owner can contact if they believe that their content is being used improperly, and taking steps to take down improper content if the website operator is notified of the infringing use.    This Commerce Department’s notice asks if this "safe harbor" provision has served the public interest, or if adjustments to this regime should be made.  Obviously, many websites that have grown businesses based on user generated content (e.g. many of the social networking and video-sharing sites) and will be very concerned with a proposal to alter their safe harbor and require them to take on a greater burden of reviewing content for potential copyright violations, while many content owners, who have complained about the inability to monitor all of these sites, may be looking for these reforms.   Obviously, there will be conflicting views on these proposals.

Continue Reading Department of Commerce Seeks Comments on The Relationship of Protecting Copyrighted Content and Innovation in the Internet Economy

Broadcasters have a host of other legal issues that they should consider in connection with their digital presence.  At last week’s Maine Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention in Bangor, Dave Oxenford addressed these issues, including service marks and copyrights, employment matters, music on websites, the use of social media, privacy and sponsorship disclosure.  A copy of Dave’s presentation on the Legal Issues

The FCC’s long-awaited White Spaces decision, revisiting its authorization of the operation of unlicensed wireless devices in the television spectrum (see our summaries of the intial order here and here), has finally been released.  The FCC decision and associated comments of the Commissioners promise Super Wi-Fi, or Wi-Fi on Steroids, and a host of other wireless digital marvels, without significantly interfering with the incumbent users of the spectrum (principally TV stations and wireless microphone users).  In this order on reconsideration, the FCC addresses many issues raised by many parties to the proceeding – some suggesting that the FCC has not sufficiently protected the incumbent users, while others arguing that the limitations on wireless users are too onerous.  For broadcasters, some of the highlights of the decision include:

  • No change in the interference protections given to TV broadcasters.  Some had suggested the use of various alternative propagation methods to be used instead of the standard FCC method of predicting the protected contours of television stations.  The FCC rejected these proposals, finding that alternatives would not be more accurate in predicting potential interference.  One minor correction including in the database that will be used by wireless devices to protect stations from interference will be included – information on a television station’s antenna beam tilt.
  • No change in the protection of LPTV station protected contours.  LPTV advocates had suggested that greater protection was required for LPTV stations that were still operating in an analog mode.  This was rejected by the Commission, given the impending digital transition for LPTV (see our summary of the LPTV digital transition, here)
  • Greater protection was afforded to cable headends, TV translator receive sites, and the receive locations for Satellite television providers (like DISH and DIRECTV) and other Multichannel Video Providers (MVPDs), so that existing television reception, no matter how it is received will be protected.  The current rules provide that such sites within 80 km from the edge of a television station’s protected contour can register in the database to be used by white spaces devices to determine where they can operate.  The Commission recognized that sites beyond that 80 km distance may also need protection.  Such sites can petition the FCC for waiver of the 80 km distance within 90 days of the effective date of this order, and the FCC will seek comment on whether or not to accord the site protection.  New sites need to register within 90 days of being put into service. 

Some of the other issues addressed by the Commission, including a big change in how these devices will operate to prevent interference, are summarized below.

Continue Reading Reconsideration of White Spaces Decision – FCC Approves Unlicensed Devices for “Super Wi-Fi” in TV Band

FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker recently delivered a speech in Washington, DC, where she addressed calls for the government to take action to assist the traditional media deal with the economic issues brought about by the new media.  From time to time, there have been calls for the government to assist the traditional media, either through some sort of direct subsidies, or through regulatory changes that could assist in their news coverage to make these entities competitive in the new media world.  While the Commissioner’s speech did not detail those efforts, calls have, for the most part, not suggested direct government subsidies to support traditional news media sources.  Instead, more indirect efforts have been suggested to insure that these media sources continue to serve their communities.  Calls have been made to change tax laws to allow newspapers to operate as nonprofit entities (while still soliciting advertising).  In a draft FTC option paper, there was a suggestion of taxing commercial media to provide more support to noncommercial public broadcasting entities.  Other proposals have been more direct – simply mandating more news and public affairs programming from broadcasters (with little or no discussion of the source of the revenues for such mandates).  In her speech, the Commissioner noted that some suggestions may be forthcoming from the FCC’s own Future of Media report due at the end of the year (see our summary of the issues that they are exploring here), but she seemed to rule out these types of proposals, instead suggesting that the Commission could assist companies meet the new media challenge by loosening FCC restrictions on ownership.

The Commissioner suggested that no government action to bail out the media is necessary to preserve service to the public – citing the many examples of how that service is provided through new media sites that serve all sorts of communities and community groups – providing timely and detailed information on specific topics, often on a neighborhood level.  We have made that same point on these pages – the new media is already filling any void that may exist in local media coverage.  Some of these sites are produced by old media companies – as TV stations, newspapers and others develop microsites targeted to very local needs and interests.  Other sites are totally independent – developed by local interest groups or new media entrepreneurs.  So how can the Commission help these sites to develop?

Continue Reading FCC Commissioner Baker Suggests No Government Support for Media, But Possible Relaxation of Broadcast Ownership Rules