The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and SoundExchange have reached an agreement on the Internet radio royalty rates applicable to stations funded by CPB.  While the actual agreement has not yet been made public, a summary has been released.  The deal will cover 450 public radio webcasters including CPB supported stations, NPR, NPR members, National Federation of Community Broadcasters members, American Public Media, the Public Radio Exchange, and Public Radio International stations.  All are covered by a flat fee payment of $1.85 million – apparently covering the full 5 years of the current royalty period, 2006-2010.  This deal is permitted as a result of the Webcaster Settlement Act (about which we wrote here), and will substitute for the rates decided by the Copyright Royalty Board back in 2007.

 The deal also requires that NPR drop its appeal of the CRB’s 2007 decision which is currently pending before the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC (see summary here and here), though that appeal will continue on issues raised by the other parties to the case unless they, too, reach a settlement.  CPB is also required to report to SoundExchange on the music used by its members.  In some reports, the deal is described as being based on "consumption" of music, and implies that, if music use by covered stations increases, then the royalties will increase.  It is not clear if this increase means that there will be an adjustment to the one time payment made by CPB, or if the increase will simply lead to adjustments in future royalty periods. 

Continue Reading SoundExchange and CPB Reach a Settlement on Webcasting Royalties – More Deals to Come?

The Copyright Royalty Board today published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the start of its next proceeding to set the royalties to be paid by Internet radio operators for the performance rights to use "sound recordings" (a particular recording of a song as performed by a particular performer) pursuant to the statutory royalty.  As we’ve written extensively on this blog, the statutory royalty allows an Internet radio station to use any publicly released recording of a song without the permission of the copyright owner (usually the record company) or the artist who is recorded, as long as the station’s owner pays the royalty – currently collected by SoundExchange.  In 2007, the Copyright Royalty Board set the royalties for 2006-2010, a decision which prompted much controversy and is still under appeal.  In the Notice released today, the CRB set February 4 as the deadline for filing a Petition to Participate in the proceeding to set the royalties for the next 5 year period.

The 2006-2010 royalties are currently the subject of negotiations as the parties to the last proceeding attempt to come to a voluntary settlement to set royalties that are different than those established by the CRB decision.  The Webcasting Settlement Act (which we summarized here) gives webcasters until February 15 to reach an agreement as to rates that would become an alternative to the rates that the CRB established.  The Act also permits parties to reach deals that are available not only for the 2006-2010 period, but also allows the deals to cover the period from 2011-2016.  Thus, theoretically, webcasters could all reach agreements with SoundExchange to establish rates that cover the next royalty period, obviating the need for the proceeding of which the CRB just gave notice.  But, as is so often the case, those settlements may not be reached (if they are) until the last minute – so parties may need to file their Petitions to Participate before they know whether a settlement has been achieved.

Continue Reading Here We Go Again – Copyright Royalty Board Announces Date for Filing to Particpate in Proceeding to Set Webcasting Royalties for 2011-2015

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

 Just when you think that the year will come to a quiet end, something always seems to pop up.  Today, the Copyright Royalty Board announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would change the reporting requirements for services that pay royalties for the use of sound recordings to SoundExchange.  The proposed new rules would require that Reports of Use submitted by services relying on the statutory royalty contain "full census reporting" of all songs played by any service.  Services would include all users of music who pay royalties due under Sections 112 or 114 of the Copyright Act – including Internet Radio, satellite radio, digital cable radio, digitally transmitted business establishment services, and radio-like services delivered by other digital means, including deliveries to cell phones. This reporting requirement would replace the current system, about which we wrote here, that only requires reporting for two weeks each quarter.  Under the new rules, an Internet radio service would have to submit the name of every song that they play to SoundExchange, along with information as to how many times that song played, the name of the featured artist, and either the recording’s ISRC code or both the album title and label.  Comments on this proposal are due by January 29.

Currently, the quarterly reports are filed electronically using an ASCII format and using either an Excel or Quattro Pro spreadsheet template as created by SoundExchange.  The Board asks for comments as to whether there are technological impediments to providing this information in this manner, and if other changes should be made to more easily facilitate the delivery of this information.  The Copyright Royalty Judges who make up the CRB expressed their opinion that the full census reporting is preferable to the limited information now provided, so that SoundExchange does not need to rely on estimates or projections to insure that all artists are fairly compensated when their works are played.  Using census reporting, all artists can be paid based on how often their songs are actually played.

Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Proposes Full “Census” Reporting for Services Paying Royalties to SoundExchange

Yesterday, it was announced that CBS would be operating Yahoo’s Launchcast Internet Radio operations.  This is ironic as the industry seems to have now come full circle, as Yahoo’s Internet Radio operations include the interests that they received when they purchased Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com, which had a substantial part of its business in the streaming of terrestrial radio stations.  While Yahoo long ago stopped streaming the broadcast signals retransmitted by Broadcast.com, it is ironic that a traditional broadcast company has now taken much of the control of not only the Internet radio operations of Yahoo, but also those of AOL and Last.FM (see our post on the AOL deal here).  Explicitly blamed for Yahoo’s decision to turn its Internet radio operations over to CBS was, according to press reports, its concerns over the Internet radio royalties as set by the Copyright Royalty Board last year, a decision about which we have written extensively.  How will this transaction affect the debate over those royalties?

Initially, this action once again shows that assumptions about the state of the Internet radio industry that colored the perception of the Copyright Royalty Judges in their determination of the royalty rates were incorrect.  While not explicitly part of the grounds of the CRB decision on the webcaster’s royalty, there was much testimony in the CRB proceeding that suggested that Internet radio brought customers to portal sites, and that higher royalties were justified by the value that these visitors added to the portals when the listeners engaged in other activities at the portal.   Yet, that model now seems in tatters, as both AOL and Yahoo have turned their operations over to CBS.  This seems to emphatically demonstrate that the economics of Internet radio operations, whether stand-alone or as part of portals, simply do not justify the royalties that were imposed (see our discussion of the Pandora economic and the royalties here).

Continue Reading CBS to Run Yahoo Launchcast Internet Radio – How It Impacts the Royalty Debate

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

The Webcaster Settlement Act, about which we write here, has been signed into law by President Bush, giving parties to the Internet Radio royalty dispute until February 15 to enter into a settlement and have it become effective, without the need for any public comment or any further government approvals.  Several recent articles have indicated that a settlement is close – for at least some of the webcasters.  In several recent statements, Tim Westergrin of Pandora has indicated that the webcasters in DiMA (the Digital Media Association), in their negotiations with SoundExchange and the record labels, were getting very close to results.  At a the Digital Music Conference held in Los Angeles last month, Jon Potter, the President of DiMA, seemed to echo that sentiment.  However, neither could state with absolute certainty when the deal would come, or what its terms would be, though in Westergrin’s comments at that conference, available here, he stated that webcasters probably would not be happy with the likely outcome of the settlement, implying that there would be a high rate that would be agreed to by the parties, though it would be one less than what the Copyright Royalty Board ordered (and one which would allow companies like his to survive).  However, he indicated that perhaps not all webcasters would be able to survive at the rate being discussed, and some might have to try to enter into their own agreements to fit other types of webcast operations.  In fact, the Webcasters Settlement Act is not limited to a single settlement, so various other parties who participated in the CRB proceeding – including broadcasters who stream their signals online, small commercial webcasters, and NPR and other noncommercial groups – could negotiate settlements as well, though there have not been any recent public statements that these negotiations were close to bearing fruit.

At a panel that I moderated at the CMJ Music Marathon later in October, which included a SoundExchange representative and a member of its Board, there was a suggestion that further settlements with groups other than DiMA might follow if and when the deal with the large webcasters is concluded.  This approach may make some sense as the copyright holders don’t want any deals that they cut with small webcasters or noncommercial parties that could affect their negotiations with larger webcasters, from whom the vast bulk of their revenues are derived.  Copyright holders naturally want to address the interests that will be the most lucrative.  However, this approach does put smaller parties, who are often most worried about potential liabilities and most sensitive to uncertainty, into a very uncomfortable position. As we’ve written before, the statutory license that is administered by SoundExchange was granted by Congress at least partially to make access to music possible, especially to smaller parties with little bargaining power and little ability to cut deals with thousands of copyright holders, which would be required without this license.  Yet these are the parties most in need of relief from the rates imposed by the Copyright Royalty Board, so we hope that the talks of future settlements in fact are accurate.

Continue Reading Is A Settlement on Internet Radio Royalties Near? Will All Webcasters Be Included and Will They Be Able to Afford It?

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?

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?