Last week, the FCC issued several fines to noncommercial broadcasters who had underwriting announcements that sounded too commercial.  In these decisions, the Commission found that the stations had broadcast promotional announcements for commercial businesses – and those announcements did not conform to the FCC’s rules requiring that announcements acknowledging contributions to noncommercial stations cannot contain qualitative claims about the sponsor, nor can they contain "calls to action" suggesting that listeners patronize the sponsor.  These cases also raised an interesting issue in that the promotional announcements that exceeded FCC limits were not in programming produced by the station, but instead in programs produced by outside parties who received the compensation that led to the announcement.  The FCC found that there was liability for the spots that were too promotional even though the station itself had received no compensation for the airing of that spot.

The rules for underwriting announcements on noncommercial stations (including Low Power FM stations) limit these announcements to ones that identify sponsors, but do not overtly promote their businesses.   Underwriting announcements can identify the sponsor, say what the business of the sponsor is, and give a location (seemingly including a website address).  But the announcements cannot do anything that would specifically encourage patronage of the sponsor’s business.  They cannot contain a "call to action" (e.g. they cannot say "visit Joe’s hardware on Main Street" or "Call Mary’s Insurance Company today").  They cannot contain any qualitative statements about the sponsors products or services (e.g. they cannot say "delicious food", "the best service", or "a friendly and knowledgeable staff" ).  The underwriting announcements cannot contain price information about products sold by a sponsor.  In one of the cases decided this week, the Commission also stated that the announcements cannot be too long, as that in and of itself makes the spot seem overly promotional and was more than was necessary to identify the sponsor and the business that the sponsor was in.  The spot that was criticized was approximately 60 seconds in length. 


Continue Reading FCC Fines for Noncommercial Stations Having Underwriting Announcements That Were Too Commercial – Even Where the Station Received No Money

The FCC has released a Public Notice, warning regulated entities that there are websites that pretend to be the site on which FCC regulatory fees are to be electronically filed.  These so-called "phishing" sites are apparently out to obtain from broadcasters and other entities regulated by the FCC information about their financial

Monday, July 16th is the first business day after the effective date of the new Internet Radio royalties set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  As we wrote earlier this week, the Court of Appeals has denied the requested stay of the effective date.  And, while a bill was introduced in Congress this week to provide for a legislative stay, that will not be acted on by Monday, nor will action occur on the broader Internet Radio Equality Act.  Thus, many webcasters are asking what they should do on July 16.  Some have suggested that they should stop streaming, while others have wondered what will happen if they don’t pay the higher royalties.  This decision is one that each webcaster should make carefully, in consultation with their counsel and business advisers.  But there are some practical considerations that should be taken into account when making the decision as to what should be done on Monday.

First, it should be noted that not all webcasters are equally affected by the royalty rate increase.  Larger commercial webcasters, including most broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet, should have been paying royalties up to now that, while lower than those adopted by the CRB, have increased by "only" about 40%  – from $.00076 per performance (per song per listener) to $.0011 per performance.  These rates will continue to increase between now and 2010 so that they eventually will reach $.0019 per song per listener.  But for now, the increase is relatively modest (as compared with some of the other increases discussed below).  While there are reportedly at least some conversations going on between SoundExchange and groups representing broadcasters and large webcasters about reaching some sort of accommodation on royalties, there is no certainty that any deal will be reached, so these webcasters probably should be paying the higher royalties (and hoping for a credit against future royalties should there be an agreement reached in the future to reduce these royalties, a successful appeal, or future legislative action reducing the royalties).


Continue Reading It’s July 15th – What’s a Webcaster to Do?