small webcaster settlement act

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?