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?

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.


Continue Reading SoundExchange and NAB Announce Settlement on Internet Radio Royalties

The battle over the broadcast performance royalty has begun anew, with the introduction of legislation to impose a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings on broadcast stations.  This royalty would be in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (which go to compensate composers of music), as this royalty would be paid to the performers of the music (and the copyright holders in the recorded performance – usually the record companies).  The statement released by the sponsors of the bill cites numerous reasons for its adoption – including the facts that most other countries have such a royalty, that satellite and Internet radio have to pay the royalty, and that it will support musicians who otherwise do not get compensated for the use of their copyrighted material.  The NAB has countered with a letter from its CEO David Rehr, arguing that musicians do in fact get  compensation through the promotional value that they get from the exposure of their music on broadcast stations.  The 50 state broadcast associations also sent a resolution to Congress, taking issue with the premises of the sponsors – citing the differences in the broadcast systems of the US and that of other countries where there is a performance royalty, and arguing that broadcasting is different from the digital services who have a greater potential for substitution for the purchase of music.  What does this bill provide?

The bill introduced this year are very similar to the legislation proposed last year (which we summarized here); legislation that passed the House Judiciary Committee but never made it to the full House, nor to the Senate.  Some of the provisions of this year’s version include:

  • Expansion of the public performance right applicable to sound recordings from digital transmissions to any transmission
  • Royalties for FCC-licensed noncommercial stations would be a flat $1000 per year
  • Royalties for commercial stations making less than $1.25 million in annual gross revenues would pay a flat $5000 per year.  There is no definition of what constitutes "gross revenues," and how a per station revenue figure could be computed in situations where stations are parts of broadcast clusters
  • Excludes royalties in connection with the use of music at religious services or assemblies and where the use of music is "incidental."  Incidental uses have been defined by Copyright Royalty Board regulations as being the use of "brief" portions of songs in transitions in and out of programs, or the brief use of music in news programs, or the use in the background of a commercial where the commercial is less than 60 seconds – all where an entire sound recording is not used and where the use is less than 30 seconds long
  • Allows for a per program license for stations that are primarily talk
  • Establishes that the rates established for sound recordings shall not have an adverse effect on the public performance right in compositions (i.e. they can’t be used as justification for lowering the ASCAP, BMI and SESAC rates)
  • Requires that 1% of any fees paid by a digital music service (such as a webcaster, or satellite radio operator) for the direct licensing of music by a copyright owner (usually the record company) be deposited with the American Federation of Musicians to be distributed to non-featured performers (background musicians), while the distribution of any fees to the featured performer be governed by the contract between the performer and record company
  • Requires that any 50% of any fees paid by a radio station for direct licensing of music be paid to the agent for collection of fees (i.e. SoundExchange) for distribution in the same manner that the statutory license fees are distributed (45% to the featured performer, 2.5% to background musicians, and 2.5% to background vocalists)


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty Battle Begins Anew – Bills Introduced in the House and Senate

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

The Stephen Colbert Christmas Special begins with Colbert sitting at the piano, writing new Christmas songs.  Why?  He explains that, while he likes all of the old Christmas songs well enough, he’d only get royalties if he wrote the songs, so he’s writing his own.  In a few sentences, Colbert explains the system of broadcast royalties in the United States, and the source of the dispute over the broadcast performance royalty that took up much committee time in the last Congress, and is bound to return in the next Congress in 2009.  As Colbert explains, in the US, the composers get paid when their music is played on a broadcast station. These payments come from the the royalties that broadcast stations pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, the performing rights organizations or "PROs" that represent the composers or the music publishing companies that hold the copyrights to those songs.   But, as Colbert points out, the performers do not get paid when they sing the song on the air.

We’ve written about the controversy about whether or not performers should get a royalty when a song that they perform but did not write, is played on the air.  But Colbert seems to have solved the problem about the performer not getting royalties when their songs are played on the air – simply by writing his own songs. And maybe we’ll be singing these songs at future Christmas parties, paying Colbert royalties, and at the same time explaining broadcast performance royalties to future generations.


Continue Reading Stephen Colbert’s Christmas Special Explains Broadcast Performance Royalties

In a recent decision, the FCC adopted new rules for AM station proofs of performance that make the process much simpler.  We wrote about this proposal when it was advanced, here.  The order adopted a week ago allows stations installing new series fed AM directional antennas to avoid the time-consuming and expensive process of

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?

Tomorrow’s FCC meeting was to consider the proposal to allow AM stations to use FM translators on a permanent basis (see our post here).  However, it is not going to happen – the FCC released a Public Notice today removing that item from the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.  While a number of other items

Today, the National Music Publishers Association ("NMPA"), DiMA, the RIAA and other music publishing groups issued a press release announcing a settlement of certain aspects of the current Copyright Royalty Board proceeding to determine the royalties due under Section 115 of the Copyright Act for the mechanical royalty for the reproduction and distribution

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?