performance complement

Late last month, the Ask Musicians For Music Act (the “AMFM Act”) was introduced in both the House and Senate. If enacted, the AMFM Act would impose on over-the-air broadcast radio stations a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings in their programming. This is yet another bill proposing that the current royalty that requires that digital music services pay royalties both for the use of musical compositions (as already paid by broadcasters) and the sound recording (currently paid by broadcasters only for the Internet streams of their programming) be extended to cover all over-the-air broadcasts by radio stations. Extending the sound recording performance royalty to over-the-air radio has been proposed many times before (see, for instance, our articles hereherehere and here), but this is the first time that the proposal has been advanced in the current session of Congress. Similar bills were introduced last session before the 2018 elections but were never brought to a vote in either the House or the Senate – see our post here.

As we’ve written before, the royalties that broadcasters pay to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and even GMR are paid to the composers of music (and the copyright holders in the musical compositions, usually a publishing company). Sound recording royalties are paid to the performers (and the copyright holders in the performances, usually the record labels). These are the royalties that broadcasters pay to SoundExchange when they stream their programming on the Internet. Historically, in the US, broadcasters and other businesses who play sound recordings are not subject to a performance royalty for the use of those sound recordings (except for digital audio music services who do pay sound recording performance royalties in the US), though such royalties are paid in many other countries in the world. This bill proposes to make broadcasters pay for their over-the-air performances. Under the provisions of the bill, the Copyright Royalty Board would set these royalties along with those paid by digital audio services, and the royalties would be paid to SoundExchange.
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The press has been full of reports over the last few weeks about Pandora and Amazon negotiating deals with record labels over music royalties, and some observers have expressed confusion – why don’t these services just rely on the rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board at the end of last year? The answer, as we have written many times before (see e.g. our articles here and here) is that the CRB rates apply only to noninteractive webcasters (companies that provide radio-like services where the listener cannot designate what song he or she will hear next). The services that rely on the CRB rates (which we summarized here and here) must abide by specific rules, including something called the “performance complement” which limits how frequently the service can play a particular artist or a particular song. Even the number of times that a listener can skip a song has been set by caselaw and industry practice (see our article here) – the fear being that if you allow unlimited skips the service becomes more like an interactive one.

So a service that wants to provide listeners with the ability to set up their own playlists or to choose to play songs on demand cannot rely on the license available through the CRB decision (the so-called “statutory license” – so named as the license and the CRB rate-setting process were created by a statute passed by Congress). Similarly, services relying on the statutory license cannot cooperate to allow copying of the songs that they play – so even setting up a service to allow the temporary caching of an Internet radio service so that listeners can hear it when they are offline, most likely cannot be done by simply paying the CRB-established rates. So what do music services that want to provide more functionality do?
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50 years ago the Beatles invaded America, stacking up Number 1 hit records by the dozens, and creating music that, even today, remains incredibly popular with many Americans.  But go to many of the interactive or on-demand music services, like Spotify, and search for Beatles music, and what will you find?   Mostly cover tunes by sound-alike bands rather than the original hits.  But yet, on services where you can’t designate your next song, like Pandora, you can hear the original songs.  Why the difference?

As we wrote two years ago, when the Beatles first announced that their catalog would be licensed to iTunes as the first interactive service to get access to their music, such services need to get licenses from the copyright holder of the sound recordings (or “master recording” – a song as recorded by a particular artist) in order to play those songs. By contrast, the non-interactive services operate under a statutory license, where a digital music service pays a royalty set by the Copyright Royalty Board (or a negotiated rate agreed to in lieu of litigation before the CRB see our article here about the various rates that are currently available to webcasters, and our article here about the start of a new proceeding to determine what those rates will be from 2016-2020). If the service pays that royalty, and observes the requirements of the license (like the “performance complement” that limits the number of songs from the same artist that can be played in a given time period, the prior promotion of the playing of a song, and certain other matters – see our article on the performance complement here) – they can play any legally available sound recording available in the US, and the sound recording copyright holder can’t object.


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Last week, the Copyright Office published in the Federal Register the final decision of the Copyright Royalty Board on the statutory rates for Internet radio royalties – royalties paid by webcasters for the noninteractive streaming of sound recordings.  As we have made clear before, these are royalties that are paid in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of the musical compositions (see our memo on Using Music in Digital Media, here, that explains the difference between the sound recording and musical composition royalties).  The rates adopted by the CRB are the rates to be paid by any webcaster who has not elected alternative rates available under one of the many settlement agreements between SoundExchange and groups of webcasters, which were entered into under the Webcaster Settlement Acts.  The Final Decision corrects a few typos in the initial decision, but otherwise leaves the substantive holdings of the decision unchanged.  We described those holdings here.  While the publication of the final decision starts the clock running on filing an appeal, the new rates are unchanged from those that were in effect for 2010 for commercial webcasters who had not elected any available alternative set of rates.  Thus, these webcasters will continue to pay at the rate of $.0019 per “performance” (a performance being one listener listening to one song – e.g. if there are 100 people listening to a stream that plays 10 songs in an hour – there are 1000 performances in that hour) for the remainder of 2011.   The publication of these rates has, however, triggered a number of questions about the comparative royalties that different Internet radio services pay for streaming music on the Internet – rates summarized below.

As set out below in detail, there are significant differences in the royalties paid by different services for the 2011-2015 royalty period.  Broadcasters who are streaming their programming on the Internet pay lower per performance royalties than webcasters paying the statutory rate in the first years of the 5 year period, but higher rates at the end of the period. (See a summary of the Broadcaster royalty agreement here).  “Pureplay” webcasters, like Pandora, pay significantly lower per performance royalties than either broadcasters or those paying under the statutory rate, but are required to pay a minimum fee of 25% of the gross revenue of their entire business – ruling out these lower rates as an option for any service that has lines of business other than webcasting.  (See a summary of the Pureplay deal here).  The broadcaster deal and that which applies to the Pureplay webcasters were both arrived at pursuant to settlements reached under the two Webcaster Settlement Acts, passed in 2008 and 2009.  These allowed the groups covered by these agreements to negotiate with SoundExchange over the rates that would cover the industry for the digital noninteractive performances of sound recordings.  The statutory rates were arrived at by a decision of the Copyright Royalty Judges after litigation which took place last year.


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The big news in the music world this week is that Apple finally is able to sell digital downloads of the Beatles catalog in its iTunes music store.  For years, the copyright holders who control the Beatles master recordings have withheld permission to use the Beatles recordings on iTunes and other digital download and on-demand streaming services, seemingly afraid of diluting the value of their copyrights.  There are other bands who have had a similar reluctance to make their recordings available on-line.  While this impasse has now been broken by the biggest name among these digital holdouts, at least as to iTunes, some have asked why it is that the Beatles were never missing from Internet radio, while they were absent from these other services.  The answer is the statutory license under which Internet Radio operates.

While there have been many disputes over the royalties that have been imposed under the statutory license created by Congress which allow non-interactive digital music companies to use sound recordings to provide music to their customers, there is no question that the license has fulfilled one of its primary functions – making sure that there is access by Internet radio operators to the entire catalog of sound recordings available in the United States.  One of the principal reasons that the statutory license was created was the inherent difficulty, if not the impossibility, for a radio-like digital service operating under the sound recoding performance royalty first adopted in 1995 to secure permission from all of the copyright holders of all of the music that such services might want to use.  Thus, Congress adopted the statutory license which requires the copyright holder to make available its sound recordings to non-interactive services, in exchange for the service agreeing to pay a statutory royalty – the royalty now set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  But only non-interactive services, where listeners cannot select the songs that they hear, are covered by that statutory royalty (see our summary here of one of the cases dealing with the question of what is and what is not a non-interactive service).


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The NAB Radio Board today voted to adopt a Terms Sheet to offer to the musicFirst Coalition which, if agreed to by musicFirst and adopted by Congress, will settle the contentious issue of whether to impose a sound recording performance royalty (the "performance tax") on over-the-air broadcasters.  If adopted, that will mean that broadcasters in the United States, for the first time, will pay a royalty to artists and record labels, in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC that go to the composers of the music.  What does the Term Sheet provide, and what will this mean for broadcasters, webcasters and others who pay music royalties?

The Term Sheet sets out a number of points, including the following:

  • A 1% of gross revenue sound recording royalty to be paid to SoundExchange
  • A phase-in period for the 1% royalty, that will be tied to the number of mobile phones that contain an FM chip.  A royalty of one-quarter of one percent would take effect immediately upon the effective date of the legislation adopting it.  The royalty would rise in proportion to the number of mobile phones with enabled FM chips.  Once the percentage of phones with FM chips reached 75%, the full royalty would take effect.
  • The 1% royalty could only be changed by Congressional action.
  • The royalty would be lower for noncommercial stations and stations with less than $1.25 million in revenue – from a flat $5000 for stations making between $500,000 and $1.25 million in revenue down to $100 for those making less than $50,000 per year.
  • Broadcasters would also get a reduction in their streaming rates – but only when FM chips in mobile phones exceed 50% penetration.  The reduction would be tied to the rates paid by "pureplay webcasters" (see our summary of the Pureplay webcasters deal here), but would be set at a level significantly higher than pureplay webcasters, rising from $.001775 in 2011 (if FM chips were quickly deployed) to $.0021575.
  • Future streaming royalties would not be set by the Copyright Royalty Board but by a legislatively ordered rate court – presumably a US District Court similar to that which hears royalty disputes for ASCAP and BMI.
  • An acknowledgment by AFTRA that broadcasters can stream their signal on the Internet in their entirety – apparently agreeing to relieve broadcasters from any liability for the additional amounts due to union artists when commercials featuring union talent are streamed
  • An agreement that broadcasters can directly license music from artists and reduce their  liability for the new royalty by the percentage of music that the broadcasters is able to directly license
  • Agreements to "fix" issues in Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act in making the provisions of these laws regarding ephemeral copies and the performance complement consistent with the waivers that major record labels gave to broadcasters when the NAB reached its settlement with SoundExchange on streaming royalties last year.  See our post here on the provisions of those waivers.
  • musicFirst would need to acknowledge the promotional effect of radio in promoting new music, and would need to work with radio in attempting to secure legislation mandating the FM chip in mobile phones.

[Clarification – 10/26/2010 – Upon a close reading of the Terms Sheet, it looks like the phase in of the 1% royalty and the delay in the streaming discount only kick in if Congress does not mandate active FM chips in cell phones.  If the mandate is enacted, then the full 1% royalty and streaming discount is effective immediately. Given the opposition of much of the wireless industry to a mandated FM chip, this may represent a recognition that the legislation requiring the active FM chip will not be enacted in the near future]

What does this all mean?


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While all the details are not out yet, the trade press has been filled with announcements this evening reporting that SoundExchange and the National Association of Broadcasters have reached a deal on Internet Radio Royalties.  This deal will apparently settle the royalty dispute between broadcasters and SoundExchange for royalties covering 2006-2010 which arose from the 2007 Copyright Royalty Board decision, as well as the upcoming proceeding for the royalties for 2011-2015.  According to the press reports, the royalties are slightly reduced from those decided by the CRB for the remainder of the current period, and continue to rise for the period 2011-2015 until they reach $.0025 per performance in 2015.  According to the press release issued by the parties, there was also an agreement between the NAB and the four major labels that would waive the limits on the use of music by broadcasters that are imposed by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

These limits, referred to as the performance complement, set out requirements on how many songs from the same artist or same CD can be played within given time periods which, if not observed, can disqualify a webcast from qualifying for the statutory license.  If a webcaster cannot rely on the statutory license, it would have to negotiate with each copyright holder for the rights to use the music that it plays.  The performance complement imposed requirements including:

  • No preannouncing when a song will play
  • No more than 3 songs in a row by the same artist
  • Not more than 4 songs by same artist in a 3 hour period
  • No more than 2 songs from same CD in a row
  • Identify song, artist and CD title in writing on the website as the song is being played

It will be interesting to see the details of this agreement setting out what aspects of these rules are being waived.


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We wrote yesterday about the introduction of a bill in the House and the Senate proposing to impose a performance royalty on broadcasters for the use of sound recordings on their over-the-air signals.  At that time, we did not have a copy of the bill itself, but were basing our post on press releases and a summary of the provisions of the bill that was available on Senator Leahy’s website.  We have been able to obtain copies of the bill titled the  "Performance Rights Act" – or actually of the "bills," as the House and Senate versions are slightly different.  Reading those bills, many of the questions that we had yesterday are answered, and some new questions are raised as to how this bill, if enacted, would affect radio broadcasters.

One question about which we wrote yesterday was whether these bills would require that any royalty be determined by the Copyright Royalty Board using a "willing buyer, willing seller" standard or the 801(b) standard that takes into account more than a simple economic analysis in determining the royalty.  The 801(b) standard is used for services in existence at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (essentially cable audio and satellite radio) and evaluates not only the economics of the proposed royalty, but also factors including the interest of the public in the dissemination of copyrighted material and the disruption of the industry that could be caused by a high royalty.  In connection with the recent CRB decision on the satellite radio royalties, the potential disruption of the industry caused the CRB to reduce the royalty from what the Board had determined to be the reasonable marketplace value of the sound recordings (13% of gross revenues) to a figure rising from 6 to 8 % of gross revenues over the 5 year term of the royalty.  In the Internet radio proceeding, using the willing buyer, willing seller model, no such adjustment was made.

In these bills, the proposal is to use the willing buyer, willing seller standard for broadcasting.  For a service that has been around far longer than any other audio service, it would seem that a standard that assesses the impact of a royalty on the industry on which it is being imposed would be mandatory.  Who wants to disrupt an entire, well-established industry that has served the public for over 80 years?.  But such a reasonable term is not part of the proposal here.


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