Next Wednesday, July 25, I will be speaking at the Podcast Movement Conference in Philadelphia, as part of the Broadcasters Meet Podcasters Track, discussing legal issues that broadcasters need to consider as they move some of their content into podcasts. One of the topics that I will be discussing will be the music royalty obligations of podcasters who use music in their programs. A month ago, we wrote about how broadcasters’ streaming royalties are affected by smart speakers like the Amazon Alexa and Google Home, as these speakers play the digital streams of a radio station’s programs where SoundExchange royalties must be paid, as opposed to the over-the-air signal of the station, where no such royalties are owed. These smart speakers may have an impact on podcasters royalties, affecting who needs to be paid in connection with the use of music in podcasts.

When I initially started to write about issues of music use in podcasts, my emphasis was on the need to secure direct licenses from performers and composers (or their record companies and publishing companies) for the rights to make reproductions and distributions of music in podcasts. When digital content is downloaded, it triggers rights under copyright law implicating the reproduction and distribution rights of copyright holders (see our article here), as opposed to their public performance rights – the rights with which broadcasters are most familiar as those are the rights that they obtain when paying Performing Rights Organizations ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR in connection with their over-the-air broadcasts and those PROs plus SoundExchange in connection with noninteractive digital streaming. When podcasts were something that were downloaded, just like the purchase of a download of a song from the iTunes music store, it was the reproduction and distribution rights that were triggered, and conventional wisdom was that the PROs had no role to play in the licensing of downloaded media. As technology has changed, the analysis of what rights you need to use music in podcasts may well be changing too. The direct licensing of music for your podcast is still needed – but a public performance right may well also be necessary.
Continue Reading Hey, Alexa, How Are Your Affecting My Podcasting Music Royalty Obligations?

The broadcast and music trade press brought news of a settlement between music companies and digital media services regrading digital music royalties.  Some press reports jumped to the conclusion that the decision had something to do with the royalty rates that Internet radio companies pay SoundExchange for streaming their music on the Internet.  Others expressed disappointment that it did not seem to address that issue at all.  In fact, the reason that the settlement had nothing to do with webcasting was because it was a settlement of a Copyright Royalty Board proceeding involving a totally different right – essentially the right to reproduce a the musical work, i.e. the words and music to a song – not any public performance right that is involved in Internet radio streaming.

As we have written before (including the last time a similar settlement was announced), webcasters pay their royalties principally under Section 114 of the Copyright Act, which sets up a "statutory license" requiring that all copyright holders in a "sound recording" (a recording of a song by a particular artist) make their songs available for public performance to any digital music service that meets certain criteria – including principally that their service is a non-interactive one, where listeners cannot pick the particular song that they want to hear.  In exchange for this right, digital music services pay a fee set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  These fees cover liabilities for music use in a process where a service generates a product that goes from the service to many people, much like radio does in the traditional world, without making any sort of lasting digital copy that would be akin, in the physical world, to a CD or record.  The settlement that was just announced deals with rights that like those paid, in the physical world, by a record company to a music publisher for using a musical composition in a record or CD that the record company is recording with a particular artist, not with the public performance right.


Continue Reading Music Royalty Settlement Announced on Mechanical Royalties – Not A Decision on Webcasting Rates

The Radio Music Licensing Committee ("RMLC") has announced that it has entered into agreements with both ASCAP and BMI for interim royalties to be paid by commercial radio stations until final royalties are set.  These royalties will be set either through negotiation or through litigation in Federal Courts which act as a "rate court" to determine what reasonable rates will be under the antitrust decrees that govern these organizations.  As we wrote here and here, the RMLC has been involved in negotiations seeking a significant reduction in the royalties paid by radio stations for the right to make a public performance of musical compositions (or "musical works").  Both organizations have agreed to a 7% reduction in the amount currently paid by radio broadcasters, to be reflected on the invoices sent by these organizations for 2010 royalties.  According to the press release on the ASCAP agreement, the discounts are interim agreements only, and will be subject to retroactive adjustment to January 1, 2010 once final royalties are set.

This money goes to composers of music, as contrasted to the controversial SoundExchange royalties that pay the performers of music (currently only in the digital world, but proposed in legislation pending before Congress to be extended to over-the-air broadcasting).   ASCAP and BMI are essentially collection agencies (called Performing Rights Organizations or PROs) for large groups of songwriters.  By signing up and paying royalties to these organizations and to SESAC, a smaller but still significant PRO, broadcasters obtain a "blanket license" to play all the songs covered by songwriters who are members of these organizations – which are essentially all of the songwriters whose songs are likely to be played by radio.  The existence of these organizations save radio stations from having to negotiate independently with the thousands of songwriters and publishing companies that own the copyrights to these compositions – an arduous task that might be almost impossible without the existence of the PROs. 


Continue Reading ASCAP and BMI Enter Into Agreement With RMLC for Interim Reductions In Radio Royalties Until Final Fees are Set

Radio broadcasters all over the country have been receiving letters about music royalties – from ASCAP, BMI and the Radio Music Licensing Committee (RMLC).  The ASCAP and BMI letters are asking for the broadcaster to sign a letter committing themselves to some royalty obligation for 2010.  They pose three options to the broadcaster – sign up to pay royalties for 2010, join the RMLC negotiating group, or notify ASCAP and BMI that they will be negotiating their own royalties.  The RMLC letter suggests that the broadcaster join in their negotiating group to help to establish a new royalty structure with these entities.  What does it all mean, and what should a broadcaster do? 

These letters are all triggered because the rates for royalties that commercial radio broadcasters pay to ASCAP and BMI for the musical compositions that they play on the air expire at the end of 2009. (Noncommercial broadcasters have a special rate set under the review of the Copyright Royalty Board, and thus are not subject to these deals)  RMLC represents most radio broadcasters in their dealings with the performing rights organizations (or "PROs" as ASCAP and BMI, and SESAC, are called). We wrote about the many issues that have held up an extension of the current agreements between radio broadcasters and ASCAP and BMI here. If there is no new deal covering these royalties in place by the end of the year, broadcasters who continue to play these compositions (which will be virtually all commercial radio operators) will need to determine how to pay royalties when the current royalty agreements expire.  The current agreements do not have any automatic extensions in them, as the antitrust consent decrees that bind these companies call for royalty deals of no more than 5 years in duration. Thus, as the old agreements are about to expire, and no new agreements are in place, the flurry of letters has followed to put broadcasters on notice of the current situation.  Of course, none of these letters is entirely clear in spelling out all the issues involved.  So we’ll try to explain some of those issues below. 


Continue Reading Letters From ASCAP, BMI and RMLC – What’s a Broadcaster to Do?

While we have written much about the battle over the broadcast performance royalty (or the "performance tax" as broadcasters call it) – whether broadcasters will have to pay artists and record labels for the right to play their music on the air – we have not written much about another looming issue with the royalties that broadcasters must pay to play music on their stations.  While broadcasters are very familiar with the ASCAP and BMI royalties, they may not be fully aware that there is a looming dispute over the amount that broadcasters will pay to these organizations in the near future.  At a panel that I moderated at the NAB Radio Show, Bill Velez, the head of the Radio Music Licensing Committee, talked about the current negotiations for the renewal of the royalty agreements between radio stations and these two Performing Rights Organizations ("PROs").  Both of the current agreements expire at the end of this year, and the RMLC is in the process of trying to negotiate new agreements.  However, because many broadcasters feel that the current deals charge more for these music rights than is justified in the current economic environment, while the PROs are reluctant to decrease the royalties that the composers they represent currently receive, the differing perceptions of the value of these rights could lead to litigation over the amount that should be paid by broadcasters for the use of this music.

First, it is important to understand what rights ASCAP and BMI are providing. These organizations, along with SESAC (about which we have written here), provide the copyright license for the "public performance" of the "musical work" or the composition, the words and musical notes to a song.  This is in contrast to the rights to the sound recording (the song as performed and recorded by a specific artist), which is licensed by SoundExchange.  Webcasters have to pay ASCAP and BMI for the use of the composition, as well as paying SoundExchange for the use of the sound recording when streaming music on the Internet.  Broadcasters only have the obligation to pay ASCAP,BMI and SESAC for the composition in connection with their over the air broadcasts but do not, under the current law (unless the broadcast performance royalty is passed), have to pay SoundExchange.  Because the current ASCAP and BMI royalties have been in place for several years, most broadcasters probably don’t think much about them, but they may have to in the near future.


Continue Reading ASCAP and BMI – Another Royalty Battle for Broadcasters?