In one more indication that the Broadcast Performance Royalty (or "performance tax" as opponents of the legislation call it) is not dead yet is an article in yesterday’s New York Times reviewing the issues at stake in the proceeding.  What was perhaps most interesting about that article was the fact that it appeared only one page away from an article about Internet Radio service Pandora, and a discussion of how that hugely popular service was almost driven out of business by music royalties set by the Copyright Royalty Board in their 2007 royalty decision.  The article about the broadcast performance royalty mentions that one of the difficulties in assessing the impact of the proposed royalty is that no one knows how much it will be, as it would be set by the Copyright Royalty Judges on the CRB.  Yet the Times makes no mention of the controversy over the previous decisions of the Board in the context of the Internet radio royalties, and how such royalties almost impacted services such as Pandora.  

How much would the proposed royalties on broadcasters be?  We have written before on that subject,here.  Under previous decisions using the "willing buyer, willing seller" royalty standard which is set out in the legislation that has passed House and Senate Judiciary committees dealing with this issue, the lowest royalty for the use of music in any case before the CRB has been 15% of gross revenues.  Even using a standard seemingly more favorable to the copyright user (the 801(b) standard that assesses more than the economic value of the music but also looks at the impact that the royalty would have on the stability of the industry on which it is imposed), the royalties have been in the vicinity of 7% of gross revenues for both satellite radio and digital cable radio, the two services that are subject to royalties set using the 801(b) standard.  This is more than broadcasters currently pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC – rates which are also currently the subject of proceedings to determine if these rates should be changed (see our posts here and here).   


Continue Reading Proposed Broadcast Performance Royalty Back in the News – Where is It Going?

Another year is upon us, and it’s time for predictions as to what Washington may have in store for broadcasters in 2010.  Each year, when we look at what might be coming, we are amazed at the number of issues that could affect the industry – often issues that are the same year to year as final decisions are often hard to come by in Washington with the interplay between the FCC and other government agencies, the courts and Congress. This year, as usual, we see a whole list of issues, many of which remain from prior years. But this year is different, as we have had a list topped by issues such as the suggestion that television spectrum be reallotted for wireless uses and the radio performance royalty, that could fundamentally affect the broadcast business.  The new administration at the FCC is only beginning to get down to business, having filling most of the decision-making positions at the Commission.  Thus far, its attention has been focused on broadband, working diligently to complete a report to Congress on plans for implementation of a national broadband plan, a report that is required to be issued in February.  But, from what little we have seen from the new Commission and its employees, there seems to be a willingness to reexamine many of the fundamental tenants of broadcasting.  And Congress is not shy about offering its own opinions on how to make broadcasting "better."  This willingness to reexamine some of the most fundamental tenets of broadcasting should make this a most interesting, and potentially frightening, year. Some of the issues to likely be facing television, radio and the broadcasting industry generally are set out below.

Television Issues.

In the television world, at this time last year, we were discussing the end of the digital television transition, and expressing the concern of broadcasters about the FCC’s White Spaces decision allowing unlicensed wireless devices into the television spectrum. While the White Spaces process still has not been finalized, that concern over the encroachment on the TV spectrum has taken a back seat to a far more fundamental issue of whether to repurpose large chunks of the television spectrum (if not the entire spectrum) for wireless users, while compressing television into an even smaller part of what’s left of the television band – if not migrating it altogether to multichannel providers like cable or satellite, with subscription fees for the poorest citizens being paid for from spectrum auction receipts. This proposal, while floated for years in academic circles, has in the last three months become one that is being legitimately debated in Washington, and one that television broadcasters have to take seriously, no matter how absurd it may seem at first glance. Who would have thought that just six month after the completion of the digital transition, when so much time and effort was expended to make sure that homes that receive free over-the-air television would not be adversely impacted by the digital transition, we could now be talking about abolishing free over-the-air television entirely? This cannot happen overnight, and it is a process sure to be resisted as broadcasters seek to protect their ability to roll out new digital multicast channels and their mobile platforms. But it is a real proposal which, if implemented, could fundamentally change the face of the television industry.  Watch for this debate to continue this year.


Continue Reading Looking Into the Crystal Ball – What Can Broadcasters Expect from Washington in 2010?

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

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee today approved a bill that would impose, for the first time, a royalty on radio broadcasters for the public performance of sound recordings in their over-the-air broadcasts.  if this bill were to be adopted by the full House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed by the President, broadcasters would have to pay for the use of sound recordings (the actual recording of a song by a particular musical artist) in addition to the royalties that they already pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of the underlying musical composition.  While, from the discussion at the hearing today, the bill is much amended from the original bill (about which we wrote, here) to try to address some of the issue that have been raised by critics, the Committee made clear that there were still issues that needed to be addressed – preferably through negotiations between broadcasters and the recording industry – before the bill would move on to the full House for consideration.  It was, as Representative Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas stated, still a "work in progress."  In fact, the Committee asked that the General Accounting Office conduct an expedited study of the impact of this legislation on radio and on musicians – but it did not wait for that study before approving the bill – despite requests from some royalty opponents that it do so. 

While I have not yet seen a copy of the amended bill that Congressman John Conyers, the Chairman of the Committee, said had been completed only a few hours before the hearing, the statements made at the hearing set out some details of the changes made to the original version of the bill.  First, changes were made to reduce the impact on small broadcasters – reducing royalties to as little as $500 for stations that make less than $100,000 in yearly gross revenues.  Interestingly, Representative Zoe Lofgren pointed out that, in a bill that means to address the perceived inequality in royalties, a small webcaster with $100,000 in revenues would be paying $10,000 in royalties – 20 times what is proposed for the small broadcaster.  And the small broadcaster who would pay $5000 for revenues up to $1.25 million in revenue would be paying 1/30th of the amount paid by a small webcaster making that same amount of revenue.


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty Passes House Judiciary Committee – A Work In Progress

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

If you are a broadcaster, you know that it’s not going to be a good day when you walk into a hearing on the possible extension of the performance royalty in sound recordings to over-the-air broadcasters and see buttons saying "I Support a Performance Right NOW" on the lapels of every other witness on the panel – including the Register of Copyrights, Marybeth Peters.  But that was the scene in Washington, as the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property held a hearing as to whether the right to collect a royalty for the public performance of a sound recording (the actual song as sung by a particular artist, as opposed to the underlying musical composition) should be paid by broadcasters.  Broadcasters in the United States have paid only a royalty on the public performance of the composition (to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC), and have never paid a royalty for the public performance of the sound recording.  The lack of a sound recording royalty has always been justified in the past on the theory that the artists and copyright holders in the sound recording benefit more than composers through the airplay of the sound recording, as they receive the bulk of the proceeds from CD sales, and the performers benefit from the promotion of live performances.  As they benefit from the promotion provided by the airplay of the song, there is no need for any sort of performance royalty.  As the music and radio businesses have both thrived in the United States – more so than anywhere else in the world – it seemed that this arrangement was mutually beneficial.

But, in recent years, the consensus over this mutually beneficial arrangement seems to have broken down.  Starting in 1995, a performance right in sound recordings has been imposed on digital services, including the royalty on Internet radio which has recently been so controversial (and about which we have written so much, here).  And, with the recent downturn in the record companies’ business, additional sources of revenue are being sought – thus the RIAA and SoundExchange, the collective that receives sound recording performance royalties, have started a Congressional push to require the collection of royalties from over-the-air radio.  And that push was reflected in the hearing held on Tuesday before a House Committee that seemed clearly to favor the imposition of this royalty on broadcasters.


Continue Reading House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Broadcast Performance Right – No Breaks for the Broadcasters