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?

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 new iPhone, connecting as it does to ATT’s high speed wireless network, has allowed Internet radio to go wireless.  While this has been possible on many platforms in the past, it has never been as easy, seamless, ubiquitous and as promoted as with the new iPhone.  The CBS radio  stations on AOL Radio, Pandora and Soma FM are all available, as are add-on applications that open the door to streaming many other Internet radio stations.  Tim Westergrin of Pandora  was quoted as stating that the iPhone would change people’s expectations of Internet radio, making it "a 360-degree solution – in the car, in the home, on the go."  But, as with any application that increases the audience of Internet radio, it comes with a cost, as the delivery of Internet radio by a mobile device, like a wireless phone, is subject to the same royalties established by the Copyright Royalty Board last year and currently in effect while on appeal – rates that are computed by the "performance," i.e. one song streamed to one listener (see our reminder on the per performance payment, here).

In the requests for reconsideration of last year’s CRB decision, SoundExchange had asked that the Board make clear that its decision applied to noninteractive streams (i.e. Internet radio) delivered to wireless devices like mobile phones.  In one of the few actions taken on reconsideration, the Board granted that request (see our summary of the reconsideration, here, and the CRB decision here).  Thus, services making their streams available to the iPhone (except for those covered under the special percentage of revenue offer that SoundExchange made to a limited class of small webcasters, and noncommercial webcasters under 159,140 aggregate tuning hours a month), must count performances and pay the per-performance royalties due to SoundExchange.


Continue Reading Internet Radio on the iPhone – Remember the CRB Royalties Apply

We recently wrote about the challenge to appointment of the Copyright Royalty Board’s judges filed by Royalty Logic as part of the appeal of the Board’s decision on Internet Radio royalties.  Royalty Logic argued that the appointment of the Copyright Royalty Judges was improper, as the Librarian of Congress was not the "head of a department" who can appoint lesser government officials under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.  Thus, Royalty Logic contends that the decision reached by the Board as to Internet radio royalties was a nullity, as the Board effectively does not legally exist.  Earlier this week, the Board and SoundExchange filed their replies to the Royalty Logic motion, arguing that, in fact, the Librarian is the head of a department, as he is appointed by the President and approved by Congress and runs a government "department," i.e. the Library of Congress, of which the Copyright Office is a part.  In demonstrating that the Library is a department, the briefs reach back to the creation of the Library by Thomas Jefferson, and look at the legislative history of legislation modifying the powers of the Library and the process for the appointment of the Librarian – legislation passed in 1870 and 1897.  Essentially, the very technical argument about why the Board was not properly constituted was met with an equally technical one that says it was properly formed.  Clearly, arguments only lawyers could love.

While Royalty Logic will have the opportunity to respond, the litigation process continues on the main portion of the appeal, as SoundExchange filed its intervenor’s brief the week before last, defending the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board.  In one notable departure, SoundExchange, while contending that the Board was correct in determining the minimum fees that would be required of webcasters, it said that, because of the agreement that it reached with certain webcasters that would cap minimum fees at $50,000  no matter how many channels a service might have (see our discussion of the agreement here), it asked that the Court remand that one limited matter back to the Board for adoption of the limitation on minimum fees so that it would apply to all webcasters and not just those who signed the agreement.  In all other respects, SoundExchange opposed the briefs of the webcasters.


Continue Reading Yes We Do Exist – Claims Copyright Royalty Board