royalties for music on the radio

In the last month, there have been two bills introduced in the US House of Representatives seeking to impose a performance royalty for sound recordings on broadcast radio stations in the US. The bill introduced yesterday, The PROMOTE Act (standing for the Performance Royalty Owners of Music Opportunity to Earn Act – whatever that may mean, can be found here), seems to have garnered more attention, perhaps as it was promoted by its principal sponsor, California Congressman Darrell Issa, as giving performing artists the right to decide whether or not their music is played by radio stations. In fact, it does not do that, instead merely setting up a royalty system similar to that in place for Internet radio operators, allowing broadcasters to play music only if they pay royalties on “identical” rates and terms as do webcasters.

The PROMOTE Act proposes to add to the Copyright Act’s Section 106 enumeration of the “exclusive rights” given to copyright holders a provision stating that sound recording copyright holders (for most popular releases, that is usually the record company) have the exclusive right to authorize the performance of recorded songs by broadcast radio stations. That is in addition to the existing right to authorize the playing of these songs by digital audio transmissions (e.g. webcasters, satellite radio and digital cable services). But, like with the right to play music by digital services, that right to prohibit the playing of recorded songs is not absolute. Instead, like for the digital services, through a proposed amendment to Section 114 of the Copyright Act, broadcasters will have the right to play the songs if they pay a royalty set by the proposed legislation at “rates and terms” “identical” to those paid by webcasters. Let’s look at these issues more closely.
Continue Reading New Congressional Attempts to Impose a Performance Royalty for Sound Recordings on Broadcast Radio, Including the PROMOTE Act – What Do They Provide?

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?