public performance rights

In one week this month, Apple announced that it will get into Internet Radio, and Pandora, the biggest player in that space, announced that it will be buying a traditional, over-the-air radio station. What do these two big announcements say about the state of music royalties for digital music services? Apple’s struggles to get its service launched were well chronicled, as it was working to get an agreement for its new service from the record labels. What was less reported was its simultaneous negotiations with the music publishing community. Pandora’s radio station purchase, on the other hand, was admittedly a simple deal to take advantage of a blanket license available to all similarly situated companies owning radio stations. We’ll explain why these two deals were so different, and what impact the deals may have on other digital music services below.

The Apple deal is one negotiated with the copyright holders for the simple reason that the service that it is offering appears to be an interactive one, unlikely to be completely covered by any statutory (compulsory) or other blanket license. As we’ve written before, a statutory or compulsory license is one where the copyright holder, by law, cannot refuse to make available his or her copyrighted work. But, in return, the copyright holder receives a royalty set by the government – in the US, usually the Copyright Royalty Board. In the music world, the two most common compulsory licenses are the ones that allow webcasters and other digital music services to publicly perform sound recordings (the royalties paid by webcasters, satellite radio and digital cable radio companies to the record companies and artists), and the royalty that allows users (including record companies) to make reproductions of musical compositions in connection with the making of a sound recording, downloads, ringtones, and probably on-demand streaming services. This royalty is commonly referred to as the mechanical royalty, and is paid to songwriters and composers or their publishing companies. To qualify for these compulsory licenses, a company must follow certain rules. If they don’t, then they have to negotiate directly for the licenses from the copyright holder – which appears to be what Apple did.

Continue Reading Apple Announces an Internet Radio Offering and Pandora Buys a “Real” Radio Station – What Does It Mean for Music Royalties?

The Copyright Office has just released a Notice of Inquiry asking whether Federal protection should be extended to sound recordings recorded prior to 1972.  A sound recording is a song as recorded by a particular artist.  Sound recordings were first protected under Federal law in 1972.  Prior to that, unauthorized recordings or reproductions of an artist’s recoding were policed under various state criminal and civil law.  While the Copyright Act has provided for the protection of pre-1972 sound recordings first registered in other countries, US sound recordings recorded prior to 1972, have not received Federal copyright protections.  Many have assumed that this also exempts pre-1972 sound recordings from royalty requirements under Section 114 of the Copyright Act – i.e. the royalties paid by Internet and satellite radio and other digital music providers under the statutory license.  How would a change in the law affect Internet radio operators?

That is one of the questions that is asked by the Notice of Inquiry.  Many Internet radio operators have not excluded pre-1972 recordings from royalty payments based on any exception that may exist for pre-1972 sound recordings, as the possibility has not been widely publicized.  Moreover, some copyright holders have suggested that the digitization of older songs may somehow bring pre-1972 recordings under the coverage of the Copyright Act, or that there may be state remedies that are somehow the equivalent of the Federal public performance right.  Others may just not want to go to the trouble of determining which copyrighted songs are subject to the Uruguay Round Agreements Act (making the non-US pre-1972 sound recordings subject to US Federal law).  The Copyright Office’s Notice of Inquiry asks what impact the inclusion of pre-1972 sound recordings would have on many undertakings – including the archiving and restoration of sound recordings, and on the current benefits that copyright holders and others enjoy under state laws.  In addition, it asks about the benefits and issues that would arise under Section 114 of the Copyright Act – the section that sets out the statutory license under which most Internet radio companies operate.

Continue Reading Copyright Office Asks if Federal Protection Should be Extended to Pre-1972 Sound Recordings – What’s the Impact on Internet Radio?

In the last two weeks, David Oxenford has, at two different conferences, moderated panels on digital music rights and licenses.  At the Digital Music Forum East, in New York City on February 25, 2010, his panel focused on rights and licenses generally, featuring panelists from SoundExchange, BMI, the Harry Fox Agency, Rightsflow and MediaNet

In a ruling released last week, a US District Court Judge issued a ruling finding that a download of a recorded musical work does not give rise to a "public performance" requiring a payment to ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.  If this decision is upheld on appeal, it could mean that one less fee would have to be paid in connection with on-demand downloads – which would also affect podcasts and video downloads made available by broadcasters on their websites.  However, there are many issues that must be understood about this ruling, so broadcasters should not impetuously rush to provide downloads and podcasts without first securing the bundle of rights necessary for such performances.

First, it is important to understand the issue that was presented in this case.  The case did not involve streaming of programming – so it has no effect on Internet radio royalties.  It involves only downloads – where a copy of a specific work is downloaded to a single consumer’s computer at the request of that consumer.  This is what happens when a consumer buys a song from iTunes, or downloads a podcast made available by a broadcaster.  There is no question that, to provide such a download or podcast containing music, a service needs to get permission from the copyright holder in the "sound recording," the song as recorded by a particular artist.  This is typically received from the record company which holds the copyright.  In addition, there is a requirement that the rights to the composition must be obtained for purposes of the making of the making of a "reproduction" and a "distribution" of the underlying composition.  This is typically obtained from the publishing company or a clearinghouse such as the Harry Fox agency.  A service that provides downlaods of music can alternatively pay a statutory royalty for the composition, though that requires following a somewhat cumbersome process of filings set out by the Copyright Office and requiring specific notice to the copyright holder in the publication.

Continue Reading District Court Finds No Public Performance In Download – Could Affect Fees on Podcasts and Video Downloads