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

David Oxenford provided a legal update on Washington issues to the Kansas Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention in Topeka on October 19, 2009.  His presentation – What Broadcasters Need to Know About What to Expect from Washington in 2009-2010 – discussed issues including the proposed broadcast performance royalty, localism and multiple ownership proceedings at the FCC, LPFM changes, and advertising and sponsorship

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

National Association of Broadcasters President David Rehr today announced his decision to leave the Association, leaving the NAB without a leader at a time when the Association is facing an incredible number of challenges in Washington. One can only hope that the NAB acts quickly to replace Rehr with someone prepared to aggressively address the needs of an industry hobbled by the current economic climate, and challenged by regulatory issues that could further undermine the ability of radio and television operators to compete in today’s media marketplace. The potential broadcast performance royalty, which could require that radio operators pay musicians and record labels for the rights to play their music on the air, is but one of a number of fundamental challenges that need to be addressed very shortly by broadcaster’s representatives in Washington – perhaps in the next week or two when the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee may take up the "performance tax" issue (as the NAB has called it in their arguments on Capitol Hill).

What else will a new NAB President have to contend with?  In addition to the performance royalty, there seems to be a perception in many quarters that broadcasting is no longer the special medium that it once was that demands regulatory deference because of the public interest service that it provides.  Because of the lessening of some of Washington’s regard for broadcasters,  there are many issues now before the FCC, Congress, the courts, and other agencies in Washington – all of which could have a serious impact on broadcasters – including:

 

  • The final days of the DTV transition
  • The FCC’s implementation of their White Areas order allowing wireless users to use parts of the TV spectrum – and the appeals and other attempts to overturn or modify that decision
  • The reauthorization of SHVERA, to continue to allow satellite companies to beam local television signals into local markets – where parties are raising all sorts of extraneous issues about carriage rights and retransmission consent, possible changes in TV market boundaries, and changes in the rights of satellite carriers to import distant signals.
  • The FCC’s localism proceeding, which could impose new obligations on broadcasters at a time when broadcast competition has never been so intense – when the marketplace should dictate how broadcasters best serve their communities
  • Potential Congressional effort to bring back the Fairness Doctrine in some form or another
  • A number of FCC proceedings that could affect new methods of advertising meant to combat technological changes – like embedded advertising and product placement that are meant to partially overcome the effects of DVRs.
  • Congressional attempts to regulate advertising and programing – including potential efforts to restrict prescription drug ads, ED treatments, violent programming and programming that promotes unhealthy foods
  • FCC attempts to reign in technical changes in FM stations to allow them to take steps to increase power and to move into larger markets
  • Congressional moves to remove restrictions on LPFM stations on channels that are third-adjacent to full power facilities – and to potentially give these new stations rights to replace existing FM translators


Continue Reading NAB President David Rehr to Leave – What’s Next for His Replacement?

In the last two weeks, we have seen Capitol Hill rallies by the Free Radio Alliance, opposing what they term the “performance tax” on radio, and yesterday by the Music First Coalition, trying to persuade Congress to adopt a performance royalty on the use of sound recordings for the over-the-air signal of broadcast stations. We’ve written about the theories as to why a performance royalty on sound recordings should or should not be paid by broadcasters, but one question that now seems to be gaining more significance is the most practical of all questions – if a performance royalty is adopted, how would broadcasters pay for it?

 The recording industry and some Congressional supporters have argued in the past that, if the royalty was adopted, stations could simply raise their advertising rates to get the money to pay for the royalty. While we’ve always questioned that assumption (as, if broadcasters could get more money for their advertising spots, why wouldn’t they be doing so now simply to maximize revenues?), that question is even harder to answer in today’s radio environment. With the current recession, radio is reporting sales declines of as much as 20% from the prior year. Layoffs are hitting stations in almost every market. In this environment, it is difficult to imagine how any significant royalty could be paid by broadcasters without eating into their fundamental ability to serve the public – and perhaps to threaten the very existence of many music-intensive stations. And the structure of the royalty, as proposed in the pending legislation, makes the question of affordability even harder to address.


Continue Reading Rallies on Capitol Hill on the Performance Royalty – Who Will Pay?

Come the New Year, we all engage in speculation about what’s ahead in our chosen fields, so it’s time for us to look into our crystal ball to try to discern what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2009. With each new year, a new set of regulatory issues face the broadcaster from the powers-that-be in Washington. But this year, with a new Presidential administration, new chairs of the Congressional committees that regulate broadcasters, and with a new FCC on the way, the potential regulatory challenges may cause the broadcaster to look at the new year with more trepidation than usual. In a year when the digital television transition finally becomes a reality, and with a troubled economy and no election or Olympic dollars to ease the downturn, who wants to deal with new regulatory obstacles? Yet, there are potential changes that could affect virtually all phases of the broadcast operations for both radio and television stations – technical, programming, sales, and even the use of music – all of which may have a direct impact on a station’s bottom line that can’t be ignored. 

With the digital conversion, one would think that television broadcasters have all the technical issues that they need for 2009. But the FCC’s recent adoption of its “White Spaces” order, authorizing the operation of unlicensed wireless devices on the TV channels, insures that there will be other issues to watch. The White Spaces decision will likely be appealed. While the appeal is going on, the FCC will have to work on the details of the order’s implementation, including approving operators of the database that is supposed to list all the stations that the new wireless devices will have to protect, as well as “type accepting” the devices themselves, essentially certifying that the devices can do what their backers claim – knowing where they are through the use of geolocation technology, “sniffing” out signals to protect, and communicating with the database to avoid interference with local television, land mobile radio, and wireless microphone signals.


Continue Reading Gazing Into the Crystal Ball – The Outlook for Broadcast Regulation in 2009

We’ve previously written about the value of music in connection with the royalties to be paid by Internet Radio and the performance royalty (or "performance tax" as it’s labeled by the NAB) proposed for broadcasters. One of the questions that has always been raised in any debate about royalties, and one often dismissed by the record industry, is to what extent is there a promotional value of having music played on the radio or streamed by a webcaster.  In discussions of the broadcast performance royalty, record company representatives have suggested that, whether or not there is promotional value of the broadcast of music, that should have no impact on whether the royalty is paid. Instead, argue the record companies, the creator of music deserves to be paid whether or not there is some promotional value. The analogy is often made to sports teams – that the teams get promotional value by having their games broadcast but are nevertheless paid by stations for the rights to such games. The argument is that music should be no different. That contention, that the artist deserves to be paid whether or not there is promotional value may be tested in connection with what was once thought to be an unlikely source of promotional value for music – the video game Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero, in its various versions released over the last few years, has proven to be a very effective tool for the promotion of music – with various classic rock bands experiencing significant sales growth whenever their songs are featured on a new version of the game. The use of a sound recording in a video game is not subject to any sort of statutory royalty – the game maker must receive a license negotiated with the copyright holder of the recording – usually the record company.  In previous editions of the game, Guitar Hero has paid for music rights. However, now that the game has proved its value in promoting the sale of music, the head of Activision, the company that owns the game, has suggested in a Wall Street Journal interview that it should be the record companies that are paying him to include the music in the game – and no doubt many artists would gladly do so for the promotional value they realize from the game. 


Continue Reading Will Guitar Hero Show the Promotional Value of Music and Change the Music Royalty Outlook?

In a recent article in Silicon Valley Insider, TargetSpot’s CEO, Doug Perlson, suggests that the financial savior of Internet Radio might be payola – taking money from record companies or artists to play their songs.  Putting aside any issues of the financial benefits of such a plan, and the creative and aesthetic issues that pay for play may raise, and since this is a blog written by lawyers, we’ll deal with the legal implications.  And as lawyers, we’re forced to play the spoilsport.  As set forth below, such a scheme can be done legally (just as it could be on terrestrial radio with the proper disclosures).  But, while there has been no legal enforcement of such activities, careful Internet radio operators would best be advised to be careful about just taking the money and playing songs, but instead should make some disclosure of the nature of the service that they are providing.

The payola statute, 47 USC Section 508, applies to radio stations and their employees, so by its terms it does not apply to Internet radio (at least to the extent that Internet Radio is not transmitted by radio waves – we’ll ignore questions of whether Internet radio transmitted by wi-fi, WiMax or cellular technology might be considered a "radio" service for purposes of this statute).  But that does not end the inquiry.  Note that neither the prosecutions brought by Eliot Spitzer in New York state a few years ago nor the prosecution of legendary disc jockey Alan Fried in the 1950s were brought under the payola statute.  Instead, both were based on state law commercial bribery statutes on the theory that improper payments were being received for a commercial advantage.  Such statutes are in no way limited to radio, but can apply to any business.  Thus, Internet radio stations would need to be concerned.


Continue Reading Payola on Internet Radio – Legal?

Once again, the extension of the sound recording performance royalty to broadcasters has become a hot topic in Washington. The subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property of the  House Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the bill introduced by Congressman Berman (about which we first reported here).  That bill would include broadcasters in the Section 114 sound recoding royalty currently applicable to digital music users including Internet radio, satellite radio and cable radio. Under the bill, the Copyright Royalty Board would be charged with the responsibility of determining what a royalty would be using the "willing buyer, willing seller" standard. Following this subcommittee approval, the bill would next be considered by the full committee. To become law, the Committee and the full House of Representatives would have to approve it, and similar legislation would need to be enacted by the Senate. As the NAB has garnered the support of a majority of the members of the House on a non-binding resolution opposing the imposition of the royalty on broadcasters, and as there is not much time remaining in the legislative session before the election and the end of this Congress, the whole process may well have to start fresh in 2009 (bills have to be reintroduced after the end of each two-year Congressional session). Yet, with all of the controversy over the issue in recent weeks, it appears certain that the issue will arise again, so it is important to look at some of the recent action.

Two weeks ago, the House subcommittee held a hearing on the issue. Prior to the hearing, the MusicFirst Coalition (principally supported by the RIAA and the affiliated record companies as 50% of any royalty goes to the copyright holders who are usually the labels) had Nancy Sinatra and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band making the rounds on Capitol Hill in support of the royalty. These appearances follow the precedent set in earlier Capitol Hill proceedings, where the Coalition has brought in niche or oldies artists to address Congress – not major popular current acts. The artists who have testified (who have included Judy Collins, Sam Moore, Lyle Lovett, and Alice Peacock) have argued that the additional income that they would receive from a performance royalty would supplement their incomes which, in some cases, has either never been great or has declined as the demand or ability to tour has declined. The argument is always made that the royalty will encourage musicians to produce their music – though it is rarely if ever claimed that music wouldn’t be made if the royalty is not adopted, as songs have been written and sung for time immemorial, well before any royalty existed, merely for the pleasure or to fulfill the need for self-expression. The question is not one of ensuring the availability of music, but instead it is one about who should get how much of whatever money is made, directly or indirectly, from the use of that music. 


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty Passes House Subcommittee – But It’s Not Done Yet