performance rights act

The debate over the proposed performance royalty (or "performance tax") on over-the-air radio is once again front page news in all of the broadcast trade press, as radio executives who make up the NAB Radio Board reportedly are making their way to Washington, DC to decide on whether to pursue a settlement with those seeking to impose the royalty.  What’s on the table?  Reportedly a very low (perhaps 1% of revenue as reported in some of the trades) royalty for terrestrial radio, a royalty set in legislation for at least a several year period.  In exchange, broadcasters would get a break on streaming royalties and a push towards getting working FM chips into cell phones – a potentially big audience boost for radio operators.  But from all we have heard, this is not, by any means, a done deal.  What will happen?

We wrote just a few weeks ago about a proposed settlement and why it might or might not be a good idea, and received many comments on our post.  As was clear from the comments, many are not sure why a settlement of any sort makes sense at this point, when the NAB has so far bottled up the royalty in Congress, and where the next Congress is, at least in the eyes of many, going to be far more Republican and, in some people’s eyes, a lot less likely to impose the royalty.  Proponents of a settlement respond that the royalty is not necessarily a partisan issue, with Republicans such as Senator Hatch of Utah, Congressman Issa of California, and many members of the Tennessee delegation taking strong positions in favor of the royalty.  So, just because there is a change in Congress (if it in fact occurs) does not necessarily mean that the current Performance Rights Act or some other version of the royalty proposal would be dead.  Moreover, as we wrote in our recent post, there still is the remainder of the current Congress to get through, including the "lame duck" session after the election, when Congressmen who may no longer have jobs will be voting on much legislation, including many big budget bills in which a performance royalty rider can get hidden. 


Continue Reading NAB Board Comes to DC to Discuss Radio Performance Royalties – Is There a Deal in the Works?

The broadcast trade press has recently been full of talk of the possibility of reaching a settlement with the recording industry on the adoption of a Performance Royalty for broadcast stations -paying performers and record companies for the use of music by radio stations (on top of the fees already paid through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC to composers).  The latest controversy was set off by comments made at the Conclave Radio Conference by Bonneville Radio’s CEO Bruce Reese, who has also been prominent in NAB activities, who suggested that broadcasters were on the defensive in Congress, and that a good settlement was better than a bad legislative outcome.  Other broadcasters have disagreed with Reese’s assessment, asking why broadcasters would be willing to settle when they have a majority of Congress on their side, having signed the NAB-supported resolution opposing the royalty.  Which side is right?

It should be emphasized that, even though broadcast groups have done an amazing job rounding up support for their opposition to the "performance tax" – signing up far more than a majority of the House of Representatives on a resolution opposing the royalty – that resolution is non-binding.  Congressmen can change their mind, and of even more concern, the proposed performance royalty can end up getting tagged on to some must-pass legislation that Congress needs to adopt before the end of the year.  Congress has many budget bills that need to pass to fund the government’s operation, and these huge bills have a way of attracting all sorts of unrelated matters being folded into their provisions.  With leaders of many important committees in the House and Senate being supporters of the royalty, its easy to imagine that one of these bills can end up with performance royalty language included.  While one broadcast trade publication suggests that NAB lobbyists are paid to stop this sort of thing from happening, it is unrealistic to believe that the NAB is invincible, as provisions on unrelated bills can pop up seemingly out of nowhere and surprise everyone, especially when pushed through by powerful congressional leaders who less committed representatives are unwilling to challenge (especially when to do so might mean voting against some important legislation to which the performance royalty is attached).  Congressman simply will not vote down the defense appropriations bill just because there is a performance tax attached.  This kind of maneuver is of particular concern given that many of these bills may well be considered after the election in November, during a "lame duck" session of Congress when, especially this year, there will be many representatives who may not be around again in January to face the wrath of voters (or of broadcasters) who may be disappointed by their final votes.


Continue Reading Talk of A Settlement on the Terrestrial Radio Performance Royalty – What Would Broadcasters Get?

In an email blast that went out this morning, the musicFIRST Coalition, the group organized to pursue a performance royalty on radio broadcasters for the use of music in their over-the-air broadcasts, announced that they would be holding a rally and concert with a member of the 1960s rock band the Monkees, musically backed by three Congressmen. 

According to a letter from the Copyright Office that has recently been made public, the economic troubles of broadcasters, which have been used to argue against the imposition of a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings by radio stations, are cyclical and are largely over.  Thus, argues the letter, the improvement in the fortunes of radio stations merits a reexamination of whether the Performance Rights Act imposing such a royalty should be adopted.  The letter contrasts the reportedly good news for radio broadcasters with the Copyright Office’s view of the plight of the record industry, which is deemed to be more permanent, based on the pervasive nature of illegal downloading.  Given the Copyright Office’s concern with the fate of the record companies, and their need to establish a more stable revenue source through payments of fees from the users of music to replace the sales of music that have declined so dramatically, the Copyright Office suggests that further review, with an eye toward adoption of the performance royalty, is merited.  This letter was addressed to the US General Accounting Office, which in February issued a report concluding that the imposition of a performance royalty would have a negative impact on the radio broadcast industry, as it has been hard hit by both fundamental changes in competition and from downturns in the business cycle, and that the imposition of the royalty would cause some stations to go out of business and others to cease playing music.  But the GAO promised a further review of certain issues, and the Copyright Office had not weighed in before the initial GAO report, this letter was prompted. 

The Copyright Office has long been on record as supporting the imposition of a performance royalty in sound recordings in the United States – not just for radio, but for all industries that use music.  This would match the performance royalty in the musical composition, as collected by ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, for the public performance of musical compositions not only by radio, but also by television, cable television, in bars and restaurants and stadiums, and in virtually any other location where music is used in a public setting.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Copyright Office would take the position that it does in this letter.  What is perhaps surprising is that the letter seems to go beyond a legal document setting forth the legal justifications for the imposition of the royalty, and instead has the tone of an advocacy piece that takes a firm position in support of the recording industry over the interests of broadcasters, and one which advocates only the position of the recording industry.


Continue Reading Copyright Office Issues Letter In Support of Broadcast Performance Royalty – Suggests that Economic Comeback for Radio Makes Royalty More Affordable

The Copyright Royalty Board has announced its approval of new sound recording performance royalties for "new subscription services", i.e. music services provided to the customers of cable or satellite television systems by companies not in this business in 1998 at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.   This royalty was adopted after a settlement between Sirius XM Radio, the only music service which filed to participate in this proceeding, and SoundExchange.  The settlement as approved provides for royalties that are the higher of 15% of the revenues of the service (subscription payments plus other revenues such as advertising and sponsorships provided by the service), or a minimum per subscriber fee that increases over the five year course of the royalty period.  The details of this settlement, including the escalating per subscriber royalties, can be found in the Federal Register notice of its approval, here.

This royalty has very limited applicability, governing only the payments due from audio services "transmitted to residential subscribers of a television service through a Provider which is marketed as and is in fact primarily a video service," i.e. music services bundled with a subscription to a cable or DBS service – and only where that service is delivered to residential users.  Given the limited applicability of this service, one might be inclined to ignore its adoption.  However, broadcasters in particular should pay attention to this royalty, as it is again indicative of the value that the music copyright holders and SoundExchange place on the use of their music in an audio service, and thus of what SoundExchange would seek were they to get a performance royalty on over-the-air broadcasting.   


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Approves Settlement for Sound Recording Royalty Rates for “New Subscription Services” – Any Hints As to What A Broadcast Performance Royalty Would Be?

The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the bill to impose a performance royalty (or the "performance tax" as the NAB had called it) on radio broadcasters for the public performance of sound recordings on their over-the-air stations.  As was the case in the House of Representatives when its Judiciary Committee approved their version of the bill, the Committee acknowledged that there was still work to do before a final bill would be ready for the full Congress.  Nevertheless, this is the first time that the Judiciary Committees in both Houses of Congress have approved the performance royalty, serving as a warning to broadcasters that this issue may well be moving to a showdown before the full House and Senate during the current session of Congress. 

There was only limited debate on the bill at the Committee hearing, yet several open issues were identified.  The Committee made clear that, even though it was approving the bill in the form introduced and amended by its managers, there were still changes that would be made in the future before any legislation was ready to be finalized.  Senator Feinstein of California discussed several of the issues.  First, the bill as amended by the Senate managers (Senators Leahy and Hatch), the bill provided relief for small broadcasters so that any performance royalty would not impose an undue burden on them.  The bill proposed the following royalty structure for small broadcasters:

(I) revenues of less than $50,000 – a royalty fee of $100 per year;

(II) revenues of at least $50,000 but less than $100,000 – a royalty fee of $500 per year;

(III) revenues of at least $100,000 but less than $500,000 – a royalty of $2,500 per year;

(IV) revenues of at least $500,000 but less than $1,250,000 – a royalty of $5,000 per year.

Senator Feinstein, who stated that she favored parity between all music services that pay a royalty, suggested that this same royalty structure should be applied to small webcasters who, under current settlement agreements, can pay almost 30 times the amount that a small broadcaster with the same revenues would pay under this bill – and those settlements were an improvement on the royalties that would have been paid under the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board.  Senator Feinstein stated that "the parties" were working on an agreement that would amend the bill to extend these rates to small webcasters.


Continue Reading Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Broadcast Performance Royalty – With Issues Yet to Resolve

On Tuesday, just before the Senate recesses for its summer vacation, an abridged version of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the proposed sound recording performance royalty for over-the-air radioInternet radio royalties were also encompassed in this discussion, principally concerning the issue of "platform parity", i.e. whether all music services subject to the sound recording performance royalty should pay a royalty determined by the same standard, or perhaps even the same royalty.  We’ve already written this week about some of the issues surrounding the broadcast performance royalty (why it’s still being considered given that a majority of the House of Representatives has already signed a resolution against the royalty, here, and discussing the likely amount of the royalty were it to be adopted, here).  Neither of these issues was discussed in depth at the hearing.  But a multitude of other issues were raised in the hearing. and we’ll address many of them over the next few days.  But first, today, a summary of the issues raised.

First, it should be made clear that there was not a full committee in attendance.  While a few Senators came and went without saying a word, questions were asked or comments made by only 5 Senators of the 19 on the Committee.  So judging how the full committee feels about the issues raised when only 5 Senators (4 of them Democrats) asked questions may not be a fair assessment of how the committee as a whole feels about the issues raised.  But, broadcasters should take warning that all of the Democratic Senators in attendance seemed to be sympathetic to the idea of adopting a broadcast performance royalty.  However, it must be noted that all also seemed somewhat sympathetic to the concerns about the financial impact of the royalty on broadcasters.  Just as members of the House have cautioned broadcasters to negotiate on a royalty before one is imposed on them, Senator Leahy of Vermont, the Chairman of the Committee, echoed those sentiments, promising that "legislation will move" on this issue – meaning that the issue will not simply fade away, despite the signatures on the NAB petition opposing the performance royalty.


Continue Reading Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Radio Performance Royalty and Platform Parity for Webcaster Royalties

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.


Continue Reading More on the Broadcast Performance Royalty Bills