Last week, after passage by both chambers of Congress and signature by the President, the ‘‘Orrin G. Hatch–Bob Goodlatte Music Modernization Act’’ became law. The law underwent a few changes on its journey to approval, adding new provisions in the Senate to those which we summarized here upon its initial passage by the House. The Act retained its same principal purposes. The driving force behind the Act was the desire to simplify the payment of “mechanical royalties” by digital music services for the reproduction and distribution of the millions of musical compositions that they use in the songs that they serve up to more and more consumers across the country. That simplification was accomplished through the creation of a new collective through which these royalties will be paid – essentially a one-stop shop where the statutory royalty will be paid. The collective will have the responsibility for finding the copyright holders and songwriters who share in the royalties – removing the need for the music services to have to identify and pay all of the appropriate rightsholders, a process that has resulted in legal claims for hundreds of millions of dollars against these services for not being able to find all the parties who are supposed to be paid for the mechanical royalties.

The general layout of the system for dealing with the payment of these royalties, through a collective to be established, remains essentially the same as in the initial House Bill. Other provisions were added in the Senate (and then approved again by the House) dealing with matters including pre-1972 sound recordings, Sirius-XM royalties, and the ability of existing music organizations to continue to do direct licenses for mechanical and other rights outside the new statutory system. We may write about those issues later. But the Senate addition likely to have the most significance for the most music users was one having nothing to do with mechanical royalties, but instead with the performance royalty for music works (musical compositions) that is paid by music services, radio stations, bars and restaurants and any other location that plays music that is heard by the public at large. The new language added by the Senate requires that, before the Department of Justice recommends any changes to the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI, the DOJ must first notify Congress of any changes that it will be suggesting to the courts that administer the decrees, so that Congress can decide if it wants to take action to block or modify any such changes. Why is that significant?
Continue Reading Music Modernization Act Becomes Law – Mechanical Rights To Become Easier Just As Performance Rights May Become More Difficult

Last week, we wrote about the recently announced deal between Big Machine Records and Entercom Communications.  The day after we posted that article, Clear Channel announced another label deal – this time with Glassnote Entertainment Group, the home of bands including Mumford & Sons and Phoenix.  As with its Big Machine deal, the public releases suggest that the label agreed to lower digital performance royalties in exchange for a royalty on over-the-air performances by the company.  What impact do these deals have on the threat of a broadcast performance royalty, and why do the parties enter into these deals?

When the Entercom deal was discussed at the NAB Radio Show, the host of the session asked for a show of hands from broadcasters in the audience who were absolutely opposed to any performance royalty – and about a quarter of the hands in the room went up.  This is probably reflective of concerns that the break in the almost unanimous opposition of radio broadcasters to an over-the-air performance royalty for record labels and musicians could mean that the broadcast performance royalty (what used to be referred to as the "performance tax") would become inevitable. Will these deals embolden the recording industry to once again push Congress to move on the stalled effort to institute a performance royalty?  Perhaps not. At a Congressional hearing soon after the announcement of the original Big Machine-Clear Channel deal, Congressional Representatives were asking witnesses from the broadcast and music industries if the deal reflected a marketplace solution to the royalty issue, obviating the need for any government involvement. And that was certainly the message of the NAB at the Radio Show – these deals are unique deals by companies that can uniquely benefit from them as they have a large digital presence, not a template for universal extension to all broadcasters.


Continue Reading Another Music Royalty Deal By Clear Channel and a Record Company – Why Broadcaster Deals With Record Companies May Be a Good Thing

ASCAP and the Radio Music Licensing Committee have reached a settlement on the amount that radio stations will pay to ASCAP for the use of music for the period through the end of 2016. The agreement was approved last week by the US District Court in the Southern District of New York acting as a “rate court” to consider those fees. We reported that a settlement had been reached in early December, and now we’ve seen the actual documents and can provide some details of this agreement between the commercial radio broadcast industry and ASCAP. It should result in significant savings for broadcasters from rates that they had been paying prior to January 1, 2010.

As we wrote in 2010 when RMLC and ASCAP were first trying to reach a deal on new rates, the biggest problem with the old rates was the payment structure. Rather than making ASCAP a partner of the broadcaster by cutting them in for a percentage of the broadcaster’s revenue, under the deal that ended in 2009, ASCAP was to receive a set fee each year from the broadcast industry.  That set fee was divided among all commercial radio stations not based on station revenues, but instead based on the market size and technical coverage of each station. So all similarly powered stations in a market paid the same ASCAP fee, whether they were big revenue producers or not.  And the agreement was entered into during a period where radio broadcasters thought that revenues would be ever-increasing, so that set fee to be paid to ASCAP increased each year. As the economy and broadcast revenues fell during the later years of the deal, while the set fee kept increasing,broadcasters were paying an ever-increasing percentage of their revenues to ASCAP – far more than would have been paid had the industry stuck to a percentage of revenue formula.

Well, the experiment is over, as the new deal returns to a traditional percentage of revenue deal. Music radio pays ASCAP 1.7% of “revenues subject to fee from radio broadcasting." Essentially, that is all the revenue that a station receives from advertising and promotions, less a 12% deduction (presumably to cover commissions and costs of collection). Barter revenues, and payments made to networks (as opposed to the stations themselves), are excluded from the gross revenue calculation. All revenues from HD programming (including any amounts received for brokered programming) is also included (at least for the time being – subject to reevaluation should HD revenues account for 25% of radio revenues by 2015). New Media revenues, if the arise exclusively from streaming your station on the Internet, are also included in this gross revenue calculation.


Continue Reading Details of the ASCAP Settlement with the Radio Industry – What Will Your Station Pay?

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

Even though the National Association of Broadcasters has been successful in getting about 240 Congressional Representatives (far more than a majority of the House of Representatives) to sign onto a resolution opposing the adoption of a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings by broadcasters in their over-the-air programming, the efforts to enact that legislation have not died.  In fact, if anything, these efforts by the recording industry and related associations have intensified – and will be reflected in a hearing to be held by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.   While I’ve seen some commentary suggesting that this is a futile effort because of the signatures on the NAB resolution, there are many reasons that broadcasters must continue to  be wary of the imposition of the royalty, and why they must keep up efforts to stop it from being enacted if they fear its potential impact.

How can this legislation be enacted if a majority of the House of Representatives have signed the resolution stating their opposition?  First, it is important to recognize that the NAB resolution, The Local Radio Freedom Act, is nonbinding.  Congressional representatives who have signed on to the resolution can take credit with their local broadcasters for having done so.  When the time comes for a vote on proposed legislation, it’s possible that these same Representatives could change their mind, or be pressured by artists and labels in their districts to vote differently from their previously expressed sentiments.  With a long way to go in this session of Congress, facing a vote on the royalty and seeing how committed these Representatives are to the positions that they have taken on the resolution is still a real possibility.  The legislation imposing the royalty (or the "performance tax" in the words of the NAB) has passed the House Judiciary Committee, and the Speaker of the House has not yet specifically stated that the bill will not come to a full House vote, even though she has been pressed to do so by broadcast interests.


Continue Reading The Broadcast Performance Royalty – Not Dead Yet, as Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearing on Tuesday

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today issued a decision basically upholding the royalty rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board due under Section 114 of the Copyright Act by satellite radio operators for the public performance of sound recordings.  The CRB decision, setting royalties for the years of 2007 to 2012, established rates that grew from 6% to 8% over the six year term. As we explained in our post, here, the Board looked at the the public interest factors set out by Section 801(b) of the Copyright Act, factors not applicable to Internet Radio royalties, in reaching the determination these royalties.  Particularly important was the factor which took into account the potential impact of the royalties on the stability of the businesses that would be subject to the royalty, resulting in a reduction of the perceived fair market value of the royalty from what the board determined to be about 13% of gross revenues to the 6-8% final royalty set by the Board.  The Court upheld the Board’s reasoning, rejecting SoundExchange’s challenge to the decision, though the Court did remand the case to the Board to decide the proper allocation of the royalty to the ephemeral rights covered by Section 112 of the Copyright Act.

What was perhaps most interesting about the Court’s decision was the concurring opinion of one of the three Judges, who stated that the fact that the Board’s judges were appointed by the Librarian of Congress, and not by the President, "raises a serious constitutional issue."   This was the same issue raised by Royalty Logic in challenging the constitutionality of the CRB in the webcasting proceeding (see our posts here and here).  The Judge concurred in the majority decision as none of the parties to the satellite radio case raised the constitutional issue, but this very question was squarely raised in the webcasting proceeding, and thus may well be resolved in the decision on that appeal.


Continue Reading Court Upholds Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Satellite Radio Royalties, But Questions Board’s Constitutionality

With 2008 almost upon us, webcasters streaming music on the Internet need to remember that the way of computing and paying royalties to SoundExchange will shift on January 1- a change that may be especially important for broadcast stations.  Under the Copyright Royalty Board decision reached last March, webcasters must pay royalties computed on a per "performance" basis.  A performance is a per song, per listener computation.  In other words, if an Internet radio station plays a song and 15 listeners are logged into the station at the time that the song plays, there would be 15 performances on which the royalty would need to be paid.  While broadcasters objected that they did not (and in many cases could not) track the number of performances that were made by their stations on the Internet, the CRB, on reconsideration of their initial decision, only went so far as the give stations an interim rate based on the number of  "Aggregate tuning hours" that a station served (e.g. one listener listening for one hour, or two for a half hour each would both be the equivalent of one aggregate tuning hour).   See our post, here, on the CRB’s reconsideration decision.  The aggregate tuning hour (or ATH) metric is one that is more readily obtain from a content delivery network or other bandwidth provider, and a metric that has been used since the first royalties were established in 2002.  Yet as of January 1, as the interim ATH rate applied only to 2006 and 2007, that method of payment will no longer be available, and many webcasters are wondering what to do to compute the per performance royalty.

Neither the CRB decision nor SoundExchange, which collects the royalties, explained what a webcaster who cannot count performances is to do when the option to pay based on aggregate tuning hours disappears.   The royalty for January performances is due to be paid to SoundExchange on March 16 (45 days after the end of the month), and a webcaster preparing to file its royalty statement on that day will need to have a performance count to include on its statement.  Many Internet radio companies have been trying to determine how to count performances and, while there are some services that offer to provide software to do so, it is my understanding that none are foolproof and, in some cases, they may not be able to get a complete count of performances.  And many smaller stations may not be able to afford such systems.


Continue Reading Internet Radio Reminder – No More Aggregate Tuning Hour Royalty After January 1