decision by a US District Court in New York was just released, setting the rates to be paid to ASCAP for the use of their composers’ music by Yahoo!, AOL and Real Networks.  The decision set the ASCAP rates at 2.5% of the revenues that were received by these services in connection with the music portions of their websites.  These rates were set by the Court, acting as a rate court under the antitrust consent decree that was originally imposed on ASCAP in 1941.  Under the Consent Decree, if a new service and ASCAP cannot voluntarily agree to a rate for the use of the compositions represented by ASCAP, the rates will be set by the rate court.  The Court explained that they used a "willing buyer, willing seller" model to determine the rates that parties would have negotiated in a marketplace transaction  – essentially the same standard used by the Copyright Royalty Board in setting the rates to be paid to SoundExchange for the use of sound recordings by non-interactive webcasters (see our post here for details of the CRB decision).  The ASCAP decision, if nothing else, is interesting for the contrasts between many of the underlying assumptions of the Court in this rate-setting proceeding and the assumptions used by the Copyright Royalty Board in setting sound recording royalty rates.

First, some basics on this decision.  ASCAP represents the composers of music (as do BMI and SESAC) in connection with the public performance of any composition.  This decision covered all performances of music by these services – not just Internet radio type services.  Thus, on-demand streams (where a listener can pick the music that he or she wants to hear), music videos, music in user-generated content, karaoke type uses, and music in the background of news or other video programming, are all covered by the rate set in this decision.  Note that the decision does not cover downloads, presumably based on a prior court decision that concluded that downloads do not involve a public performance (see our post here).  In contrast, the CRB decision covered the use of the "sound recording" – the song as actually recorded by a particular artist – and covers only "non-interactive services," essentially Internet radio services where users cannot pick the music that they will be hearing.


Continue Reading Rate Court Determines ASCAP Fees for Large Webcasters – Some Interesting Contrasts with The Copyright Royalty Board Decision

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing this week on the Future of the Internet, dealing principally with the issue of net neutrality – whether Internet Service Providers treat all content carried through their facilities equally.  This issue principally involves questions of whether ISPs can charge big bandwidth users for their content to be transmitted through the ISPs facilities, or to be transmitted at preferred speeds.  The testimony of Chairman Martin at the hearing raised several issues – issues both about what he said and what some reports perceived him to say.  Some reports had him saying that the FCC did not need to regulate indecency on the Internet – though I never heard that question asked. But he did say that he did not have trouble with ISPs blocking illegal content such as child pornography and illegal file-sharing, which raises the question of whether some might look to ISPs to become copyright police – blocking access to material that does not have copyright clearances.  And, with the hearing being held on the same day as a media company purchased a company that can identify copyrighted material by reviewing that content when transmitted on the Internet – is that possibility coming closer to being a reality?

In recent weeks, there have been several trade press reports about government regulation of indecency on the Internet.  I’ve seen at least two trade press reports on Chairman Martin’s testimony before the Commerce Committee, claiming that he said that no government regulation of indecency on the Internet was necessary.  I did not hear any reference to indecency regulation in his testimony (a written version of his statement is available here, and you can watch the entire testimony, here).  Instead, that testimony was about whether Congress needed to pass laws to allow the Commission to enforce its net neutrality principles.  Nonetheless, the press seems to believe that Internet indecency is an issue which might be targeted by regulation.  A recent study finding that the majority of Americans think that FCC regulation of indecency should be extended to the Internet has also been cited in several reports.  However, despite the seeming interest in regulation of the Internet, there are serious constitutional concerns about any such regulation.  In fact, as we wrote here, numerous attempts to regulate indecency on the Internet have been overturned by the Courts on constitutional grounds, as the government could make no showing that the regulations were the least restrictive means for restricting access to adult content.


Continue Reading Indecency and Copyright Enforcement by ISPs? – Questions From the Net Neutrality Hearings

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board published an order seeking comments on a proposed settlement establishing the royalties for "Business Establishment Services."  Essentially, this is the royalty paid by a service which digitally delivers music to businesses to be played in stores, restaurants, retail establishments, offices and similar establishments (sometimes referred to as "background" or "elevator" music, though it comes in many formats and flavors, and may sometime include the rebroadcast of programming produced for other digital services).  The proposed settlement would essentially carry the current rates forward for the period 2009-2013.  These rates require the payment of 10% of a services revenue (essentially what they are paid by the businesses for the delivery of the music) with a minimum annual payment of $10,000.

Some might wonder how a royalty of 10% royalty can be justified – and why it shouldn’t set some sort of precedent for the Internet radio services about which we have written so much here.  Once again, as we’ve written before, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act sets different standards for different kinds of music use.  For many consumer-oriented services (like satellite radio, digital cable radio and Internet radio), there are different standards used to determine the royalty rate.  For Business Establishment Services, it’s not the standard that is different – it’s the royalty itself.  Under the DMCA, there is no performance royalty paid either by the business or the service provider.  Instead, under the statute, the royalty is paid only for the "ephemeral copies" – those transitory copies made in the digital transmission process.  That is different than the royalty for all of the other digital services, where fees are paid for both the performance (under Section 114 of the Copyright Act) and the ephemeral copies (under Section 112).


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Requests Comments on Business Establishment Service Royalty Rate

The FCC has released the full text of its Order adopting enhanced disclosure requirements for broadcast television stations – requiring that they post their public files on their websites and that they quarterly file a new form, FCC Form 355, detailing their programming in minute detail, breaking it down by specific program categories, and certifying that the station has complied with a number of FCC programming rules.  The Commission also released the new form itself and, as detailed below, the form will require a significant effort for broadcasters to document their programming efforts – probably requiring dedicated employees just to gather the necessary information.  The degree of detail required is more substantial than that ever required of broadcasters – far more detailed than the information broadcasters were required to gather prior to the deregulation of the 1980s – though, for the time being, much (though not all) of the information is not tied to any specific programming obligations set by the FCC.

 Before getting to the specifics of the new requirements, the thoughts of the Commission in adopting this order should be considered.  The Commission’s decision focuses on its desire to increase the amount of citizen participation in the operation of television stations and the decisions that they make on programming matters.  While many broadcasters protested that the public rarely cared about the details of their operations, as evidenced by the fact that their public files were rarely if ever inspected, the Commission suggested that this was perhaps due to the difficulty the public had in seeing those files (the public actually had to go to the station to look at the file) and the lack of knowledge of the existence of the files (though broadcasters routinely broadcast notice of the public file’s existence during the processing of their license renewal applications, rarely producing any viewers visiting the station to view the file).  With respect to the new Form 355 detailing the station’s programming, the Commission rejected arguments that reporting of specific types of programming in excruciating detail imposes any First Amendment burden on stations, as the Commission claims that it has imposed no new substantive requirements.  Yet the Commission cites its desires that the public become more involved in the scrutinizing of the programming of television stations, which it states will be aided by the new form, and also emphasizes the importance that the Commission places on local service (an item detailed in Form 355).  At the same time, in its proposals detailed in its Localism proceeding (summarized here), the Commission is proposing rules requiring specific amounts of the very programming that is reported on Form 355, the very numbers that, in this proceeding, it claims have no significance.  Moreover, citizens will be encouraged by the Commission’s actions to scrutinize the new reports, and file complaints based on the perceived shortcomings of the broadcaster’s programming.  Broadcasters in turn will feel pressured to air programming that will head off these complaints.  So, implicitly, the Commission has created the First Amendment chilling effect that it claims to have avoided.


Continue Reading FCC Releases Rules for Enhanced TV Disclosure Requirements

At its December meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Localism.  At that meeting, while the Commissioners discussed the generalities of the proposals being made, the specifics of the proposals were unknown.  The full text of the NPRM has now been released, and it sets out the areas in which the Commission proposes to re-regulate broadcast stations.  The order also hints at a number of other proceedings that the Commission intends to launch in the near future, and reminds broadcasters of a number of other existing proceedings that will potentially bring about greater regulation.  From the discussion in the NPRM, new rules will apply to all broadcasters – large and small – and potentially place significant burdens on all stations which, as always, are hardest for small stations to deal with.  Given the number of new regulatory initiatives discussed by the Commission, the NPRM is a must-read for all broadcasters, and this proceeding is one in which all broadcasters should participate.

Among the specific proposals on which the Commission asks for comments include the following:

Community Advisory Boards:  The Commission tentatively concludes that all stations will be required to establish a community advisory board to advise the station on the issues of importance to the community that can be addressed in the station’s programming.  The Commission indicated that it did not want to bring back the burden of the ascertainment process that was abolished in the 1980s, but asks how the Board should be established so as to represent the entire community, suggesting that the categories of community leaders that were used in the ascertainment process could be used as a standard to guide the licensee in determining the make-up of the board.  Other questions include how often the board should meet, and how the board members should be selected (or elected – though by whom, the Commission does not suggest).

Other Community Outreach Efforts.  The Commission also suggests that other community outreach efforts should be considered as possible mandates for broadcasters.  These would include the following:

  • Listener surveys by telephone or other electronic means (general public surveys were also part of the ascertainment process abolished in the 1980s, so if this were adopted together with the Community Advisory Board, ascertainment would effectively be back)
  • Focus sessions or town hall meetings
  • Participation of management personnel on community boards, committees, councils and commissions (mandatory civic participation?)
  • Specific phone numbers or email addresses, publicized during programming, for the public to register their comments on station operations.

Remote Station Operations.  Comments are sought as to whether television stations should be forbidden to operate without being manned during all hours of operation.  Radio operations will be addressed in the proceeding to consider the public interest issues posed in the Digital Radio Proceeding (see our summary here).

Quantitative Programming Guidelines.  The Commission proposes to adopt quantitative standards for programming that a station would have to meet to avoid extra processing and scrutiny at license renewal time.  Questions include what categories of standards should be established (just local programs – or more specific requirements to set required amounts of news, public affairs and other categories – and how to define what programming would qualify in each category), should requirements be established as specific numbers of minutes or hours per day or per week or by a percentage of programming or through some other metric, should other specific requirements or measurements be established?

Main Studios.  The commission suggests reverting to the pre-1987 requirement that each station maintain a main studio in its community of license

Network Programming Review.  The Commission asks whether rules should be adopted to require that local network affiliates have some ability to review all network programming before it is aired.  If so, what programs would be exempt from the requirement (e.g. live programs), how much prior review is necessary, would such a right disrupt network operations?

Voice Tracking.  The Commission asks if "voice-tracking," (i.e. a radio announcer who provides announcing on a radio station from outside a local market, sometimes including local inserts to make it sound as if the announcer is local) should be limited or prohibited, or if disclosure should be required.

Local Music.  While the Commission indicates that it did not think that a ban on national playlists was required, it did ask whether broadcasters should be required to report the songs that they play, and how they choose their music.  With that information, the Commission asks if it should consider the amount of local music played when assessing whether a station has served the needs of its community at license renewal time.

Class A TV.  The Commission asks whether it should adopt rules that permit more LPTV stations to achieve Class A status, meaning that they would no longer be secondary stations subject to being forced off the air by interfering uses of the TV spectrum by full-power TV stations.

 


Continue Reading FCC Releases Specifics of Localism Rulemaking – Proposing Lots of New Rules For Broadcasters

[Correction 1/24/2008- we have published a correction to this entry, here, noting that the Federal Register publication described below contained only half of the FCC’s order in its LPFM proceeding, omitting the portion seeking public comment.  That section of the order will apparently be published in the Federal Register at a later date – so the February 19 comment date set out below is incorrect.  Everyone has more time to prepare their comments.  The actual filing date will be set in the future.]

The FCC Order establishing new rules for Low Power FM (LPFM) Stations was published in the Federal Register on January 17.  This sets the date of February 19 for the filing of comments on the question of the relationship between LPFM stations and both FM translators and full-power FM stations.  These comments will address two issues, (1) whether LPFM stations should remain secondary stations, subject to being knocked off the air by new full-power FM stations and (2) whether LPFM stations should get some sort of priority over some or all FM translator stations.

LPFM stations have been "secondary" stations, meaning that they could be knocked off the air when a new FM station came on the air, or when improvements to the facilities of an existing FM station were constructed, if the new full-power FM facilities would be caused interference from the existing LPFM station.  As we wrote here, at its November meeting, the FCC decided that it needed more information to determine whether LPFM stations should continue to be secondary to new or improved FM stations.   While not reaching a final determination on that issue, the FCC adopted temporary processing policies which essentially force the full-power stations to deal with LPFM operators in cases where such interference arises – potentially blocking improvements in the facilities of a number of FM stations. 


Continue Reading Comment Date on the Relationship of Low Power FM Stations to FM Full Power Stations and Translators Set

The FCC today adopted a Report on its Localism proceeding, accessing the evidence that it gathered in its three year long investigation of whether broadcasters were adequately serving the interests of their local communities.  We wrote long ago about some of the specific issues that the FCC was reviewing in this proceeding – everything from the public interest programming of broadcasters to their music selection process to their response to local emergencies.  Among the report’s conclusions were findings that not all broadcasters were adequately assessing the needs of their communities or serving the public interest through coverage of local news and other local events.  Because of these perceived weaknesses in broadcaster performance, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, much as we expected in our post here, tentatively concluding that re-regulation of the broadcast industry was necessary, bringing back some form of ascertainment and some specific quantifiable requirements for public interest programming

As in the case of the Multiple Ownership order adopted today (summarized here), the full text of the FCC Report and the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has not been released.  Instead, only a short Public Notice, and the statements of the Commissioners at the meeting, are available to determine what was done.  From these notices, it appears that three tentative conclusions were reached.  They are, as follows:

  • More Low Power TV stations should be able to get Class A status, meaning that they are no longer a secondary service that can be "bumped" by a new full power television station or by changes to the facilities of a full-power station
  • Each licensee should be required to establish a community advisory board made up of specific groups of community leaders, with whom the station would meet on a regular basis to assess the needs of the community
  • The FCC’s license renewal standards should contain specific quantitative requirements for public service programming

While these may sound like noble decisions, there are many details and much history that the Commission needs to address before these proposals become final FCC rules.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Localism Report and Starts Rulemaking to Consider Adopting New Public Interest Obligations for Broadcasters

The FCC today adopted new requirements for television broadcasters to quarterly file a report with the FCC quantifying their service to the public.  The order also requires that stations keep their public file on their website, if they have a website.  Broadcasters will also be required to broadcast twice each day a notice as to how listeners can find their public file.  This order resolves some of the issues raised in a rulemaking proceeding (about which we wrote here) begun over 7 years ago as part of the rules to govern TV’s digital transition.  Yet these new rules apply to analog as well as digital television operations.  In fact, the public file rule goes into effect 60 days after the publication of the FCC’s order in the Federal Register.  

The new FCC form will replace the Quarterly Issues Programs lists prepared by licensees since the mid-1980s.  The Quarterly Issues lists were originally adopted to replace more detailed reporting requirements which forced broadcasters to collect and file the same types of information that the FCC is now requesting.  While the new forms are not yet released, from the discussion at the FCC meeting, it appears that they will require the following information:

  • Details about civic and election coverage provided by the station
  • Information about programming from independent producers that is aired by the station
  • Information about the number of Public Service announcements (PSAs) aired by the station
  • A description of efforts that the station has undertaken to serve its community
  • Specifics about emergency information provided by the station
  • Information about how emergency and other information is provided to viewers with disabilities
  • There was also some discussion that indicated that the reports would require information about how stations ascertain the needs of their community that are addressed in their programs.


Continue Reading FCC Adopts Rules Requiring TV Stations to Keep Public File on Website – and Adopts New Requirements for Quantifying Public Interest Obligations

In a very unusual, if not unprecedented case, the FCC announced a Public Forum on the license renewal application of WWOR-TV to assess the service provided by that station to the citizens of New Jersey.  While the FCC has in the past held evidentiary hearings on license renewal applications, those hearings were trial-type, adversarial proceedings held on specific issues before administrative law judges – not amorphous public proceedings on general questions about the service provided by the station.  This proceeding seems much more akin to the "localism" hearings that the FCC has been holding around the country (including the most recent held in Washington on Halloween), only in this case it is not conducted to come up with some general policy guidelines, but instead it is to assess whether a broadcast license worth hundreds of millions of dollars should be renewed.  While the revocation of a license for failure to serve the public interest under the license renewal standards that have been in effect for the last 11 years is unprecedented, this process may be one that other stations could face were proposals of certain Congressional and FCC proponents of license renewal reform to get their way.

As we wrote here and here, some have suggested that the FCC’s license renewal process should be fundamentally reformed.  There have been suggestions that license renewal, which once occurred every three years for broadcast stations but now comes up but once every eight years, should return to that shorter cycle.  And some have suggested that the license renewal process should have more "teeth" to assess a broadcaster’s performance (see, for instance, the statement of Commissioner Copps at the FCC Localism hearing in Portland, Maine in June). These teeth have been suggested to include everything from specific quantitative showings of public interest programming by the broadcaster, to local public hearings to assess the level of that service for some or all broadcast stations.  How the FCC would have the resources to conduct hearings for any meaningful number of broadcast stations is unclear – but the suggestion has been made by various proponents of license renewal reform. 


Continue Reading FCC Sets Unusual Public Forum to Assess License Renewal of New Jersey Television Station

The Copyright Royalty Board has asked for comments on proposed royalty rates for the use of sound recordings by "Preexisting Subscription Services."  In adopting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Congress divided digital music services into various categories, each of which are assessed different royalties for the use of sound recordings. Preexisting subscription services were those digital subscription music services in existence as of the date of the adoption of the DMCA. Basically, these were the digital cable music services that were in operation in 1997.  In the proceeding now being resolved by a settlement between Music Choice (the one remaining service that was in existence in 1997) and SoundExchange, the companies propose a royalty of 7.25% of gross revenues of the service for the period 2008-2011, and 7.5% of gross revenues for 2012. A $100,000 minimum payment is due at the beginning of each year.  Comments on the settlement are due on November 30.  As set forth below, this settlement sets the stage for the upcoming decision on satellite radio royalty rates – as these two services are both governed by a royalty-setting standard that is different than that used for Internet radio.

The Copyright Royalty Board announced the proceeding to set the royalties for Preexisting Subscription Services at the same time as they initiated the proceeding to set new royalties for Satellite Radio Services – which were also considered to be preexisting services at the time of the adoption of the DMCA – not because they were actually operating, but as their services had been announced and construction permits to construct the satellites had been issued by the FCC.  No settlement has been reached with the satellite radio services (except as to limited "new subscription service" that XM and Sirius provide in conjunction with cable and satellite television packages where, according to the CRB website, a settlement has been reached), and a hearing was held earlier this year to take evidence on what the rates for those services should be.  As we’ve written before, SoundExchange has requested royalties that would reach 23% of a satellite radio operator’s gross revenues.  The satellite radio case has been completed, briefs filed, and oral arguments were held in October.  A decision in the case is expected before the end of the year.


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Asks for Comment on Music Choice Royalty – Satellite Radio is Next