The Copyright Royalty Board yesterday announced on its website the royalty rates that webcasters will pay to SoundExchange for the use of sound recordings in their digital transmissions over the Internet and to mobile devices in the period from 2016-2020.  For commercial webcasters, the CRB set $.0017 as the per performance (i.e. the rate paid per song, per listener) rate for nonsubscription streaming, and $.0022 per performance for subscription streaming.  For most webcasters, including broadcasters, this represents a drop of approximately 1/3 in the rates paid – perhaps the first time in any CRB proceeding that rates decreased as the result of a CRB decision.  The rates and terms adopted by the CRB for this statutory license can be found here.

For Pureplay webcasters, like Pandora, the nonsubscription rates represent a modest increase from the $.0014 rate that they were paying in 2015 pursuant to the Pureplay Agreement negotiated under the Webcaster Settlement Act almost 8 years ago (see our article here).  For the subscription services offered by these companies, the rate actually decreases from the $.0025 rate that they had been paying. There is also no provision for a percentage of revenue. The Pureplay Agreement had required that services pay the higher of the per performance rate or 25% of the webcaster’s gross revenues from all sources, limiting their growth outside of webcasting, and preventing companies with substantial other business interests from entering the Internet radio market and relying on the Pureplay rates. That percentage of revenue overhang has been eliminated.  For a summary of the rates that had been in effect for all of the different classes of webcasters, see our article here.
Continue Reading CRB Announces Webcasting Royalty Rates for 2016-2020 – Lower Rates for Broadcasters Who Stream, Minimal Change for Pureplay Webcasters

The proposals for the royalty rates to be paid by webcasters to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings for 2016-2020 are now on file with the Copyright Royalty Board, and they represent two differing perspectives on the state of the industry and how much Internet radio companies can and should pay to record companies and recording artists.  As we wrote many months ago, the CRB initiated its proceeding to set these royalties back in January, and earlier this month, participating parties, including internet music services and SoundExchange, were required to file their “direct case exhibits” – written witness statements setting out the arguments to justify the proposals of each side, and their proposed royalty rates.  These direct cases (with certain confidential information redacted) are now available on the CRB website. So what are the parties proposing?

SoundExchange provided expert testimony and exhibits from record company executives to contend that there are many new entrants into the streaming industry and that the industry is healthy and growing.  Looking at deals that have been done in the marketplace, including deals for “interactive streaming” (deals negotiated directly between services and copyright holders, and not subject to CRB oversight and review – see our article here), SoundExchange suggests that the royalties should increase from their current rate of $.0023 per performance (e.g. per song per listener).  Their rate proposal is to go from $.0025 in 2016 to $.0029 in 2020. But, in a new wrinkle, they propose that the CRB should adopt a new “greater of” formulation, suggesting that all commercial Internet radio services should pay the greater of the suggested per performance royalty or 55% of revenue related to their streaming.  This greater of formulation is partially justified by SoundExchange based on their witnesses claim that such “greater of’ formulations are common in interactive streaming agreements.
Continue Reading Webcasting Rate Proposals for 2016-2020 Now Public – What Will The Copyright Royalty Board Be Considering in Setting Royalty Rates for Internet Radio?

In one more indication that the Broadcast Performance Royalty (or "performance tax" as opponents of the legislation call it) is not dead yet is an article in yesterday’s New York Times reviewing the issues at stake in the proceeding.  What was perhaps most interesting about that article was the fact that it appeared only one page away from an article about Internet Radio service Pandora, and a discussion of how that hugely popular service was almost driven out of business by music royalties set by the Copyright Royalty Board in their 2007 royalty decision.  The article about the broadcast performance royalty mentions that one of the difficulties in assessing the impact of the proposed royalty is that no one knows how much it will be, as it would be set by the Copyright Royalty Judges on the CRB.  Yet the Times makes no mention of the controversy over the previous decisions of the Board in the context of the Internet radio royalties, and how such royalties almost impacted services such as Pandora.  

How much would the proposed royalties on broadcasters be?  We have written before on that subject,here.  Under previous decisions using the "willing buyer, willing seller" royalty standard which is set out in the legislation that has passed House and Senate Judiciary committees dealing with this issue, the lowest royalty for the use of music in any case before the CRB has been 15% of gross revenues.  Even using a standard seemingly more favorable to the copyright user (the 801(b) standard that assesses more than the economic value of the music but also looks at the impact that the royalty would have on the stability of the industry on which it is imposed), the royalties have been in the vicinity of 7% of gross revenues for both satellite radio and digital cable radio, the two services that are subject to royalties set using the 801(b) standard.  This is more than broadcasters currently pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC – rates which are also currently the subject of proceedings to determine if these rates should be changed (see our posts here and here).   


Continue Reading Proposed Broadcast Performance Royalty Back in the News – Where is It Going?

Yesterday, it was announced that CBS would be operating Yahoo’s Launchcast Internet Radio operations.  This is ironic as the industry seems to have now come full circle, as Yahoo’s Internet Radio operations include the interests that they received when they purchased Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com, which had a substantial part of its business in the streaming of terrestrial radio stations.  While Yahoo long ago stopped streaming the broadcast signals retransmitted by Broadcast.com, it is ironic that a traditional broadcast company has now taken much of the control of not only the Internet radio operations of Yahoo, but also those of AOL and Last.FM (see our post on the AOL deal here).  Explicitly blamed for Yahoo’s decision to turn its Internet radio operations over to CBS was, according to press reports, its concerns over the Internet radio royalties as set by the Copyright Royalty Board last year, a decision about which we have written extensively.  How will this transaction affect the debate over those royalties?

Initially, this action once again shows that assumptions about the state of the Internet radio industry that colored the perception of the Copyright Royalty Judges in their determination of the royalty rates were incorrect.  While not explicitly part of the grounds of the CRB decision on the webcaster’s royalty, there was much testimony in the CRB proceeding that suggested that Internet radio brought customers to portal sites, and that higher royalties were justified by the value that these visitors added to the portals when the listeners engaged in other activities at the portal.   Yet, that model now seems in tatters, as both AOL and Yahoo have turned their operations over to CBS.  This seems to emphatically demonstrate that the economics of Internet radio operations, whether stand-alone or as part of portals, simply do not justify the royalties that were imposed (see our discussion of the Pandora economic and the royalties here).


Continue Reading CBS to Run Yahoo Launchcast Internet Radio – How It Impacts the Royalty Debate

The Webcaster Settlement Act, about which we write here, has been signed into law by President Bush, giving parties to the Internet Radio royalty dispute until February 15 to enter into a settlement and have it become effective, without the need for any public comment or any further government approvals.  Several recent articles have indicated that a settlement is close – for at least some of the webcasters.  In several recent statements, Tim Westergrin of Pandora has indicated that the webcasters in DiMA (the Digital Media Association), in their negotiations with SoundExchange and the record labels, were getting very close to results.  At a the Digital Music Conference held in Los Angeles last month, Jon Potter, the President of DiMA, seemed to echo that sentiment.  However, neither could state with absolute certainty when the deal would come, or what its terms would be, though in Westergrin’s comments at that conference, available here, he stated that webcasters probably would not be happy with the likely outcome of the settlement, implying that there would be a high rate that would be agreed to by the parties, though it would be one less than what the Copyright Royalty Board ordered (and one which would allow companies like his to survive).  However, he indicated that perhaps not all webcasters would be able to survive at the rate being discussed, and some might have to try to enter into their own agreements to fit other types of webcast operations.  In fact, the Webcasters Settlement Act is not limited to a single settlement, so various other parties who participated in the CRB proceeding – including broadcasters who stream their signals online, small commercial webcasters, and NPR and other noncommercial groups – could negotiate settlements as well, though there have not been any recent public statements that these negotiations were close to bearing fruit.

At a panel that I moderated at the CMJ Music Marathon later in October, which included a SoundExchange representative and a member of its Board, there was a suggestion that further settlements with groups other than DiMA might follow if and when the deal with the large webcasters is concluded.  This approach may make some sense as the copyright holders don’t want any deals that they cut with small webcasters or noncommercial parties that could affect their negotiations with larger webcasters, from whom the vast bulk of their revenues are derived.  Copyright holders naturally want to address the interests that will be the most lucrative.  However, this approach does put smaller parties, who are often most worried about potential liabilities and most sensitive to uncertainty, into a very uncomfortable position. As we’ve written before, the statutory license that is administered by SoundExchange was granted by Congress at least partially to make access to music possible, especially to smaller parties with little bargaining power and little ability to cut deals with thousands of copyright holders, which would be required without this license.  Yet these are the parties most in need of relief from the rates imposed by the Copyright Royalty Board, so we hope that the talks of future settlements in fact are accurate.


Continue Reading Is A Settlement on Internet Radio Royalties Near? Will All Webcasters Be Included and Will They Be Able to Afford It?