small commercial webcasters

The actions and reactions in response to the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision from two weeks ago continue to roll in as the ramifications of the decision sink in. In the days before Christmas, two announcements were made that warrant note. One was a decision of the CRB itself, correcting the rates and terms that it released just the week before – with some sighs of relief being heard from certain high school and university stations. The other was the realization that there were many issues covered by Webcaster Settlement Act agreements from 2009 that were not reflected in the CRB decision and may have impact on significant portions of the webcasting industry.

First, the correction. On Christmas Eve, the CRB issued a revised version of the rates and terms that will apply in 2016 (you can find the revision here). It appears that there were some formatting errors that were corrected, and a number of definitions that had been included in the initial release were deleted – apparently as they referred to terms that were no longer used in the current royalty rates. For instance, a number of definitions relating to “broadcasters” and “broadcaster webcasting” were excluded. These were no longer necessary as broadcasters are not treated any differently than other commercial webcasters under the new royalties. One place where the deletion of a definition resulted in a substantive change was what appeared to be an unintentional inclusion in the initial release of the definition of an “educational webcaster.”  The definition seemingly applied only to those webcasters that received CPB funding and transmitted solely noncommercial radio programs from a terrestrial radio station. That definition would have excluded many webcasters affiliated with schools but without an FCC license from a settlement agreement entered into by the Collegiate Broadcasting Association and SoundExchange – a settlement meant to cover school webcasters providing for a $500 a year royalty for streaming of less than 159,140 aggregate tuning hours per month (and record-keeping relief for many webcasters covered by that arrangement). That “educational webcaster” definition was excluded in the revision released last week – leaving the CBI settlement in place covering webcasters affiliated with educational institutions, to the relief of many educational webcasters.
Continue Reading Webcasting Royalty Decision Developments – Revised Rates and Terms from the CRB, Issues about Performance Complement and Small Webcasters

In recent weeks, SoundExchange has begun to send letters to broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet without paying their SoundExchange royalties.  Despite all of the publicity about Internet radio royalties and the controversy about the rates for those royalties, there still seem to be webcasters unfamiliar with their obligations to SoundExchange.  As we have written many times, SoundExchange collects royalties for the public performance of the "sound recording", a song as recorded by a particular artist.  Those royalties, which are charged only to digital media companies like Internet radio, satellite radio and digital cable radio, are paid half to the copyright holder in the recording (usually the record company for most popular songs) and half to the performers on the recording.  These royalties are paid in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of the musical work – the underlying musical composition, the words and music of a song – money that is paid to the composers of that musical work.  So just paying ASCAP, BMI and SESAC is insufficient to cover your streaming operations when music is being used. 

While these royalties have been law since 1998, and have been set by decisions first by a CARP (Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel) in 2003, and then by the Copyright Royalty Board in 2007, it seems like some companies still have not gotten the message about the obligations to pay these fees.  Thus, in the last few weeks, SoundExchange has been sending out letters to companies that have not been paying.  The letter are not particularly threatening – instead pointing out the obligations that companies have to pay the royalties, and asking if the webcaster may be paying under some corporate name that is not readily apparent from the website.  The letter also points the webcaster to the SoundExchange website for more information.  Finally, it notes that SoundExchange represents the copyright holders for collections purposes, and notes that nothing in the polite letter waives any rights that those holders have to pursue actions for failure to pay the royalties – in other words to sue for Copyright infringement.   So, gently, webcasters are reminded to pay their royalties or risk being sued for copyright infringement, with potential large penalties for playing music without the necessary licenses.


Continue Reading SoundExchange Sending Reminders to Broadcasters Who Are Not Paying Royalties for Streaming Music Sound Recordings

Many Webcasters who have elected the the royalty rates set by many of the settlement agreements entered into pursuant to the Webcasters Settlement Act must file an election notice with SoundExchange by January 31 to continue to be covered by those settlement agreements.   These agreements were entered into by groups of webcasters and SoundExchange, and allow the webcasters to pay royalties at rates lower than those rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board for 2006-2010.  January 31 is an important date even for those webcasters who are covered by agreements that don’t demand an annual election, as most Internet radio operators must make annual minimum fee payments by January 31.  SoundExchange does not send out reminders of these obligations, so Internet Radio operators must remember to make these filings on their own.  The original election forms filed under settlement agreements signed by the NAB and by Sirius XM cover the entire settlement period from 2006-2015, so no election form must be filed each year, though minimum fee payments must still be made.  Note that certain small broadcasters, who need not meet SoundExchange recordkeeping obligations, do need to file an election to certify that they still meet the standards necessary to count as a small broadcaster.  The WSA settlement agreements that cover Pureplay webcasters, Small Commercial webcasters, Noncommercial Educational webcasters and other noncommercial webcasters all are entered into on a year-by-year basis.  Thus, to continue to be covered, parties currently governed by these agreements need to file a Notice of Election to again be covered by these agreements by January 31 (though note that the SoundExchange website provides for filings by February 1, presumably as January 31 is a Sunday).

The election forms are available on the SoundExchange website, though they are not easy to find. The forms that must accompany the annual minimum fees are also on the SoundExchange website.  Note that in some cases there are forms that cover both webcasters who paying under a particular settlement, as well as under the special provisions for small entities that are covered by these same agreements (e.g. Small Pureplay webcasters file a different form than other Pureplay Webcasters even though both are governed by the same agreement.  Similarly Small Broadcasters file a form different than other broadcasters, though both are covered by the same agreement).  These forms can be found at the links below.  Click on the name of the category of webcasters for a link to our article that summarizes the particular settlement, the minimum fees required, and the qualifications for small webcasters under that deal (if there is such a provision):

Note that there is no specific form for NPR affiliates covered under the NPR settlement, as an organization set up by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting handles all payments and SoundExchange filings.  Other companies providing Internet radio services need to pay attention to these dates – and file the necessary papers and make the required payments by the upcoming deadline. 


Continue Reading Reminder: Many Webcasters Have to Make Annual Election of SoundExchange Royalty Rates and Minimum Fee Payments By January 31, 2010

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