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

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?

Both the House and the Senate have now approved the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, which will become law when it is signed by the President. Just what does this bill do? It does not announce a settlement of the contentious Internet Radio royalty dispute, about which we have extensively written here. It does not change the standard for judging Internet radio royalties, as had been proposed in the Internet Radio Equality Act, introduced last year and now seemingly dead in the waning days of this Congress, and in the Perform Act, about which we wrote here (the IREA and the Perform Act proposed different standards – the first more favorable to webcasters and the second more favorable to SoundExchange). These issues will seemingly be left to be disputed in a future Congress. Instead, the Webcaster Settlement Act seems to only adopt a simplified process for the approval of settlements that may be reached by the parties on or before February 15, 2009 – a settlement process that had been previously used in the Small Webcaster Settlement Act (the language of which this bill amends).

What is the significance of these new settlement processes? Under current law, any settlement between any group of webcasters and SoundExchange could only be binding on the entire universe of sound recording copyright holders if that settlement was approved by the Copyright Royalty Board. If an agreement is not binding on all copyright holders, then the reason for the statutory royalty – being able to pay one entity and get access to all the music in the world – would not be met.  The current procedures for approving settlements seem to contemplate such settlements only before a decision on royalties is reached by the CRB.   While some have speculated that the Court of Appeals that is currently considering the CRB appeal could remand the case to the CRB to effectuate a settlement and force the CRB to address it, that is by no means certain. For instance, the large webcasters, through their organization DiMA, reached a settlement with SoundExchange to cap minimum fees at $50,000 per webcaster. In their briefs filed with the Court of Appeals, both DiMA and SoundExchange have asked the Court to remand that aspect of the case to the CRB for adoption – yet that request has been opposed by the Department of Justice acting on behalf of the CRB. Thus, voluntary settlements may not be easy to obtain.

Continue Reading Webcaster Settlement Act – What Does It Mean?

In November, the FCC adopted an Order limiting to 10 the number of FM translators from the 2003 translator filing window that a single applicant could pursue.  This Order was adopted by the Commission at the urging of LPFM advocates who believed that the large number of FM translator applications filed in 2003 foreclosed some opportunities for new low power FM stations (see our description of the Order here).  Last week, the FCC released a Public Notice telling translator applicants to choose which 10 applications that they will continue to prosecute.  Applicants have until April 3 to make that choice and notify the Commission of their choice.  If no choice is made by that date, the FCC will continue to process the first 10 applications that were on file, dismissing any remaining applications by that applicant.

The Commission is expecting to then continue to process the remaining applications, opening a settlement window after the dismissal process is complete so that the remaining applicants can sort out possible engineering solutions or other settlements that would resolve conflicts between remaining mutually exclusive applications.  However, there are a number of Petitions for Reconsideration that were filed against the Order establishing the 10 application limit (including one filed by our firm on behalf of a number of clients).  We’ll see if the Commission takes any action on the Reconsideration petitions (and an accompanying Petition for Stay of the selection deadline) or if the Commission marches on and continues to process these applications.  For now, applicants should be ready to make their selections on or before April 3.

Continue Reading Deadline for FM Translator Applicants To Select 10 Applications to Continue to Prosecute

SoundExchange yesterday announced that it had signed agreements with 24 small commercial webcasters.  Contrary to what many press reports have stated, this is not a settlement with Small Commercial Webcasters.  In truth, what was announced was that 24 small webcasters had signed on to the unilateral offer that SoundExchange made to small webcasters, about which we wrote here.  Essentially, this is the same offer that SoundExchange made in May, which was rejected by many independent webcasters as being insufficient to allow for the hoped for growth of  these companies, and insufficient to encourage investment in these companies.  These larger Small Commercial webcasters, including those that participated in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding, rejected that offer and instead have sought to negotiate a settlement with SoundExchange that would meet their needs.  Instead of reaching a true settlement with these companies that had participated throughout the CRB proceeding and now have an appeal pending before the Court of Appeals, SoundExchange instead announced that their unilateral proposal was accepted by 24 unnamed webcasters.  Thus, rather than negotiating a settlement, if anything this announcement shows that SoundExchange has not been willing to negotiate – as it has not moved substantively off the proposal they announced over 4 months ago.

While 24 webcasters may have signed on, it would seem that these must be entities that don’t expect to grow their revenues to $1.25 million, or grow audiences that reach the 5,000,000 tuning hour limit at which, under the SoundExchange-imposed agreement, the webcaster needs to start paying at the full CRB-imposed royalty rate.  Moreover, the agreements only cover music from SoundExchange members, excluding much independent music that many webcasters play.  For music from companies that are not SoundExchange members, a webcaster has to pay at full CRB rates.  For a small service playing major label music, the agreement may cover their needs, but for the larger companies playing less mainstream music, a different deal is needed. 

Continue Reading SoundExchange Announces 24 Agreements – But Not One a Settlement With Small Webcasters

As reported in Digital Music News and other publications on Friday, Clear Channel Communications dropped its waiver of music royalties from its on-line agreement signed by musicians submitting songs to the Company in hopes that their music would be played on the Company’s radio stations.  In writing about this decision, most publications attribute the decision to the petition filed with the FCC by the Future of Music Coalition and other public interest groups arguing that the waiver requests constituted a form of payola – the giving of something of value (the waiver of the right to receive a royalty) in exchange for the playing of music.  However, on close inspection, that would appear to be a misunderstanding of the royalty, as there would seem to be no royalty that would be affected by the waiver in connection with the playing of this music by radio stations, and therefore there would be no payola over which the FCC has any jurisdiction.

According to the Future of Music petition, Clear Channel’s promise to play new music was made in connection with the payola settlement that it and other companies entered into with the FCC, and was apparently contained in a side letter filed with the FCC, as it was not spelled out in the settlement agreements themselves. See our analysis of the settlement agreements, here.  The side letter promised that the Company would dedicate a certain amount of radio airplay on the Company’s radio stations to new local music.  However, such play would not implicate any music royalties – so a waiver of royalties would not confer any benefit on the Company.  Broadcast stations pay no royalty for the use of a sound recording – thus the waiver that Clear Channel requested was without any value as there was no royalty to waive.  While broadcast stations do pay a royalty for the composition (the underlying words and music of a song), stations play flat fees to ASCAP and BMI that are a function of the station’s market size and power – not a function of how many songs are played.  Thus, as there is no sound recording royalty and a flat fee for the composition royalty unaffected by any waivers, the waiver did not confer any benefit to the Company in connection with its broadcast operations.  Thus, there where would appear to be no payola issue over which the FCC would have any jurisdiction.

Continue Reading Music Waivers Dropped Amid Payola Allegations – What’s the Impact for Future Waivers for Webcasters?

Monday, July 16th is the first business day after the effective date of the new Internet Radio royalties set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  As we wrote earlier this week, the Court of Appeals has denied the requested stay of the effective date.  And, while a bill was introduced in Congress this week to provide for a legislative stay, that will not be acted on by Monday, nor will action occur on the broader Internet Radio Equality Act.  Thus, many webcasters are asking what they should do on July 16.  Some have suggested that they should stop streaming, while others have wondered what will happen if they don’t pay the higher royalties.  This decision is one that each webcaster should make carefully, in consultation with their counsel and business advisers.  But there are some practical considerations that should be taken into account when making the decision as to what should be done on Monday.

First, it should be noted that not all webcasters are equally affected by the royalty rate increase.  Larger commercial webcasters, including most broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet, should have been paying royalties up to now that, while lower than those adopted by the CRB, have increased by "only" about 40%  – from $.00076 per performance (per song per listener) to $.0011 per performance.  These rates will continue to increase between now and 2010 so that they eventually will reach $.0019 per song per listener.  But for now, the increase is relatively modest (as compared with some of the other increases discussed below).  While there are reportedly at least some conversations going on between SoundExchange and groups representing broadcasters and large webcasters about reaching some sort of accommodation on royalties, there is no certainty that any deal will be reached, so these webcasters probably should be paying the higher royalties (and hoping for a credit against future royalties should there be an agreement reached in the future to reduce these royalties, a successful appeal, or future legislative action reducing the royalties).

Continue Reading It’s July 15th – What’s a Webcaster to Do?

Should artists waive their rights to performance royalties in order to get airplay on broadcast or Internet radio stations? That questions has come to the fore based on a click-through agreement that Clear Channel included on a website set up to allow independent bands to upload their music for consideration for airplay by its stations. While artist groups, including the Future of Music Coalition, condemned that action, there are always two sides to the story, as was made clear in a segment broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition, in which I offered some comments. As set forth in that segment, artists may be perfectly willing to allow unrestricted use of a song or two in order to secure the promotional value that may result from the airplay that might be received. For the broadcaster or Internet site seeking such permission, getting all rights upfront may well be an important consideration in deciding whether or not to feature a song – especially in the digital media.

Critics of the waiver made much of the fact that the site was set up at least partially to meet Clear Channel’s informal commitment made as part of the FCC payola settlement to feature more independent music, even though that commitment was not a formal part of the settlement agreement.  (See our summary of the payola settlement, here).  Even to the extent that the informal commitments made by the big broadcasters encompassed making time available to more independent musicians, the critics ignore the fact that the companies do not need any waiver of any sound recording performance royalty in connection with the over-the-air broadcast of those songs, as there currently is no public performance right in a sound recording for over the air broadcasting (though artists and record lables are now pushing for such a royalty, see our story here). Thus, the use of the waiver was only for the digital world – which was not covered by the FCC’s jurisdiction over payola promises or the promises to increase the use of independent music. So, effectively, the company is being chastised for trying to minimize their costs on giving the music even greater circulation through their digital platforms than they initially promised.

Continue Reading Musicians Trade Waiver of Royalty Rights in Exchange for Exposure – Maybe Not Such a Bad Idea

The past few days have been eventful ones in the battle over Internet radio royalties.  Appeals from the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board decision (see our memo explaining that decision, as well as our coverage of the history of this case) were submitted by virtually all of the parties to the case.  In addition, the National Association of Broadcasters, which had not previously been a party to the case, filed a request to intervene in the appeal to argue that the CRB decision adversely affects its members.  Also in Court, a Motion for Stay of the decision was submitted, asking that the CRB decision be held in abeyance while the appeal progresses.  The "appeals" that were filed last week are simply notices that parties dispute the legal basis for the decision, and that they are asking that the Court review that decision.  These filings don’t contain any substantive arguments.  Those come later, once the Court sets up a briefing schedule and a date for oral arguments – all of which will occur much later in the year.  As the CRB decision goes into effect on July 15, absent a Stay, the appeal would have no effect on the obligations to begin to pay royalties at the new rates.

The Stay was filed by the large webcasters represented by DiMA, the smaller independent webcasters that I have represented in this case, and NPR.  To be granted a stay, the Court must look at a number of factors.  These include the likelihood that the party seeking the stay will be successful on appeal, the fact that irreparable harm will occur if the stay is not granted, the harm that would be caused by the grant of a stay, and the public interest benefits that would be advanced by the stay.  The Motion filed last week addressed these points.  It raised a number of substantive issues including the minimum per channel fee  set by the CRB decision, the lack of a percentage of revenue fee for smaller webcasters, and issues about the ability of NPR stations to track the metrics necessary to comply with the CRB decision.  The Motion raised the prospect of immediate and irreparable harm that would occur if the decision was not stayed, as several webcasters stated that enforcement of the new rates could put them out of business.

Continue Reading NAB Joins the Fray on Internet Radio – Appeals and a Request for Stay are Filed, And a Settlement Offer is Made to Noncommercial Webcasters