Under the compulsory license for the use of sound recordings – the license which allows Internet radio services to use all legally recorded sound recordings by paying a royalty set by the Copyright Royalty Board – the designated collection agency can, once each year, audit a licensee to assess its compliance with the royalty requirements.  Under the law, when the collective decides to audit a company, it must notify the Copyright Royalty Board, who then gives public notice of the fact that an audit is to take place.  The Copyright Royalty Board has just announced that SoundExchange has decided to audit Last.FM.  Based on a number of public statements, SoundExchange has been citing Last.FM as an example of problems with royalties – contending that Last.FM had paid royalties of only a couple of thousand dollars a year, under the Small Webcasters Settlement Act, just before selling out to CBS for over $200 million.  Given SoundExchange’s tough talk about Last.FM, this notice of an audit is not surprising.  SoundExchange’s focus on this company illustrates the difficulty of valuing music use, and the different perceptions of music users and copyright holders as to what that value should be.

 In past years, SoundExchange has audited a number of webcasters – usually large webcasters.  As SoundExchange must bear the cost of the audit unless a significant underpayment is discovered, it is unlikely that more than a few companies will be audited each year.  However, as SoundExchange has made such a big deal of Last.FM, with witnesses on performance royalty issues mentioning it at Congressional hearings, and representatives mentioning it on various industry conferences (including SoundExchange President John Simson’s reference to the company on a panel on which we jointly appeared at Canadian Music Week earlier this month), many expected that an audit would be forthcoming.


Continue Reading SoundExchange to Audit Internet Radio Royalty Payments of Last.FM – What is the Value of Music?

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board published an order seeking comments on a proposed settlement establishing the royalties for "Business Establishment Services."  Essentially, this is the royalty paid by a service which digitally delivers music to businesses to be played in stores, restaurants, retail establishments, offices and similar establishments (sometimes referred to as "background" or "elevator" music, though it comes in many formats and flavors, and may sometime include the rebroadcast of programming produced for other digital services).  The proposed settlement would essentially carry the current rates forward for the period 2009-2013.  These rates require the payment of 10% of a services revenue (essentially what they are paid by the businesses for the delivery of the music) with a minimum annual payment of $10,000.

Some might wonder how a royalty of 10% royalty can be justified – and why it shouldn’t set some sort of precedent for the Internet radio services about which we have written so much here.  Once again, as we’ve written before, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act sets different standards for different kinds of music use.  For many consumer-oriented services (like satellite radio, digital cable radio and Internet radio), there are different standards used to determine the royalty rate.  For Business Establishment Services, it’s not the standard that is different – it’s the royalty itself.  Under the DMCA, there is no performance royalty paid either by the business or the service provider.  Instead, under the statute, the royalty is paid only for the "ephemeral copies" – those transitory copies made in the digital transmission process.  That is different than the royalty for all of the other digital services, where fees are paid for both the performance (under Section 114 of the Copyright Act) and the ephemeral copies (under Section 112).


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Requests Comments on Business Establishment Service Royalty Rate

The Copyright Royalty Board has asked for comments on proposed royalty rates for the use of sound recordings by "Preexisting Subscription Services."  In adopting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Congress divided digital music services into various categories, each of which are assessed different royalties for the use of sound recordings. Preexisting subscription services were those digital subscription music services in existence as of the date of the adoption of the DMCA. Basically, these were the digital cable music services that were in operation in 1997.  In the proceeding now being resolved by a settlement between Music Choice (the one remaining service that was in existence in 1997) and SoundExchange, the companies propose a royalty of 7.25% of gross revenues of the service for the period 2008-2011, and 7.5% of gross revenues for 2012. A $100,000 minimum payment is due at the beginning of each year.  Comments on the settlement are due on November 30.  As set forth below, this settlement sets the stage for the upcoming decision on satellite radio royalty rates – as these two services are both governed by a royalty-setting standard that is different than that used for Internet radio.

The Copyright Royalty Board announced the proceeding to set the royalties for Preexisting Subscription Services at the same time as they initiated the proceeding to set new royalties for Satellite Radio Services – which were also considered to be preexisting services at the time of the adoption of the DMCA – not because they were actually operating, but as their services had been announced and construction permits to construct the satellites had been issued by the FCC.  No settlement has been reached with the satellite radio services (except as to limited "new subscription service" that XM and Sirius provide in conjunction with cable and satellite television packages where, according to the CRB website, a settlement has been reached), and a hearing was held earlier this year to take evidence on what the rates for those services should be.  As we’ve written before, SoundExchange has requested royalties that would reach 23% of a satellite radio operator’s gross revenues.  The satellite radio case has been completed, briefs filed, and oral arguments were held in October.  A decision in the case is expected before the end of the year.


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Asks for Comment on Music Choice Royalty – Satellite Radio is Next