percentage of revenue royalty

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board published in the Federal Register its decision on Internet radio royalties for 2011-2015.  The question that I received many times since the publication last week is “huh, didn’t we already see that decision a long time ago?”  Indeed we did – the original decision setting the rates was reached in December 2010 (which we wrote about here and here).  But, as many will remember, there was also an intervening decision finding that the CRB had been unconstitutionally established.  The Court remedied the unconstitutionality by changing the law’s provisions dealing with the ability of the Librarian of Congress to remove the Judges, and sent the decision back to the CRB to redo the 2010 decision.  The redo is the result that was released last week.  While the new decision did not change the rates for webcasters, it did contain some new analysis that presents some interesting insights into the Judge’s thought processes that may be relevant to webcasters who will be affected by the recently started proceeding to determine rates for 2016-2020.  As the three Judges on the CRB have all arrived on the CRB since the 2010 decision, this rewritten decision provides some insight as to how they are approaching the new proceeding. 

By the time the decision declaring the unconstitutionality of the “old” CRB was reached, the only party left fighting the decision was Intercollegiate Broadcasting Systems, a group of college broadcasters.  All of the commercial broadcasters had either settled their royalty disputes, or dropped out of the proceeding (see our summary of the rates entered into by parties as part of the Webcasters Settlement Acts).  Thus, no commercial webcasters participated in the remanded proceeding before the CRB.  The CRB noted the lack of any challenge to the commercial rates, and given that they were not challenged, and that they fell in a zone of reasonableness, they were adopted.  But, in determining that the rates were in the zone of reasonableness, the CRB did not just pay lip service to reviewing the prior decision, but it instead did a full review of that decision.  And, some of the discussion that they offered may arise again in the new proceeding.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Reissues Decision on Internet Radio Royalties for 2011-2015 – Same Rates But New Analysis

The Copyright Royalty Board today published in the Federal Register its notice announcing the commencement of the next proceeding to set webcasting royalty rates for 2016-2020.  The Notices (here for webcasting and here for “new subscription services” – subscription webcasting and other similar pay digital music services, other than satellite and cable radio whose royalties were set in another proceeding about which we wrote here) were notable as they were not simply an announcement that the proceedings were beginning and a recitation of the procedure for filing a petition to participate (essentially a written filing setting out a party’s interest in the outcome of the proceeding and the payment of a $150 filing fee). Instead, the order sets out a series of questions for consideration by potential participants, asking that they consider some fundamental issues about the nature of the royalty to be adopted in this proceeding.  Petitions to participate must be filed by interested parties with the CRB by February 3

The questions asked by the Judges really revolve around two issues that have been raised many times in prior proceedings.  These questions are noteworthy only because the Judges are asking the parties to consider whether the CRB should address issues that have been litigated in prior proceedings – issues that some might have considered to be settled by these prior cases.  First, the Judges ask if the CRB would be justified in adopting a percentage of revenue royalty, rather than the per song, per listener royalty metric that has been used in the three prior proceedings. Asking that question raises several other sub-issues that are set out in the orders including:

  • Whether it is too difficult to determine what the revenues of a webcaster are, an issue that can be troublesome if the webcaster has multiple lines of business where determining which revenues are attributable to webcasting and which are attributable to other services might be complicated (though collection agencies like ASCAP and BMI are able to administer their royalty schemes, usually using a percentage of revenue rate).
  • Whether a percentage of revenue royalty is unfair to the artists because it does not pay each artists an equivalent amount for each song that is played, thought the Judges ask parties to address whether all music is worth the same amount (see our article here about the difficulty in assessing the value of music and the controversies that it raises).
  • Whether a percentage of revenue royalty encourages the webcaster to use too much music, as services not paying on a per song per listener basis might not need to be efficient in monetizing their music use unless, as suggested by the Board, there are substantial minimum fees adopted to encourage the webcaster to make money off of its use of the music.

In addition, the Board asks if there should be different rates for different types of webcasters – are some more efficient than others?  Can royalties be maximized by “price discrimination” – charging less to certain webcasters to get whatever can be received from them, while charging a higher royalty rate to other services that can afford to pay more?  In effect, there has been price discrimination in the webcasting market, but such discrimination has come about after there have been decisions perceived as adverse to webcasters, when webcasters and SoundExchange have come together, often as the result of political pressure, to negotiate alternative rates pursuant to a Webcaster Settlement Act (or the Small Webcaster Settlement Act in the initial proceeding).  See our summary of the differing royalty rates currently paid by webcasters pursuant to these negotiated deals, here
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Calls for Petitions to Participate in Proceeding to Set Webcasting Royalties for 2016-2020 – Posing Many Questions for Potential Participants

Yesterday, SoundExchange sent to many small webcasters an agreement that would allow many to continue to operate under the terms of the Small Webcaster Settlement Act as crafted back in 2002, with modifications that would limit the size of the audience that would be covered by the percentage of revenue royalties that a small webcaster would pay. A press release from SoundExchange about the offer can be found on their website by clicking on the "News" tab.  This is a unilateral offer by SoundExchange, and does not reflect an agreement with the Small Commercial Webcasters (the “SCWs”) who participated in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding to set the rates for 2006-2010 and who are currently appealing the CRB decision to the US Court of Appeals (see our notes on the appeal, here). The SoundExchange offer, while it may suffice for some small operators who do not expect their businesses to grow beyond the limits set out in the SWSA (and who only play music from SoundExchange artists – see the limitations described below), still does not address many of the major issues that the SCWs raised when SoundExchange first made a similar proposal in May, and should not be viewed by Congress or the public as a resolution of the controversy over the webcasting royalties set out by the CRB decision (see our summary of the CRB decision here).

The proposal of SoundExchange simply turns their offer made in May, summarized here, into a formal proposal.  It does not address the criticisms leveled against the offer when first made in May, that the monetary limits on a small webcaster do not permit small webcasters to grow their businesses – artificially condemning them to be forever small, at best minimally profitable operations, in essence little more than hobbies. The provisions of the Small Webcasters Settlement Act were appropriate in 2002 when they were adopted to cover streaming for the period from 1998 through 2005, as the small webcasters were just beginning to grow their businesses in a period when streaming technologies were still new to the public and when these companies were still exploring ways to make money from their operations. Now that the public has begun to use streaming technologies on a regular basis, these companies are looking to grow their businesses into real businesses that can be competitive in the vastly expanding media marketplace. The rates and terms proposed by SoundExchange simply do not permit that to occur. 


Continue Reading Another Offer From SoundExchange – Still Not a Solution