In a pre-Christmas surprise that most broadcasters could do without, identical bills were introduced in Congress on Tuesday proposing to impose a performance royalty on the use of sound recordings by terrestrial radio stations.  Currently, broadcasters pay only for the right to use the composition (to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) and do not pay for the use of sound recordings in their over-the-air operations of the actual recording.  This long-expected bill (see our coverage of the Congressional hearing this summer where the bill was discussed) will no doubt fuel new debate over the need and justification for this new fee, 50% of which would go to the copyright holder of the sound recording (usually the record label) and 50% to the artists (45% to the featured artist and 5% to background musicians).  The proponents of the bill have contended that it is necessary to achieve fairness, as digital music services pay such a fee.  To ease the shock of the transition, the bill proposes flat fees for small and noncommercial broadcasters – fees which themselves undercut the notion of fairness, as they are far lower than fees for comparable digital services.   

While, at the time that this post was written, a complete text of the decision does not seem to be online, a summary can be found on the website of Senator Leahy, one of the bills cosponsors.  The summary states that commercial radio stations with revenues of less than $1.25 million (supposedly over 70% of all radio stations) would pay a flat $5000 per station fee.  Noncommercial stations would pay a flat $1000 annual fee.  The bill also suggests that the fee not affect the amount paid to composers under current rules – so it would be one that would be absorbed by the broadcaster. 


Continue Reading Bill Seeking Broadcast Performance Royalty Introduced In Congress

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

Yesterday, SoundExchange sent to many small webcasters an agreement that would allow many to continue to operate under the terms of the Small Webcaster Settlement Act as crafted back in 2002, with modifications that would limit the size of the audience that would be covered by the percentage of revenue royalties that a small webcaster would pay. A press release from SoundExchange about the offer can be found on their website by clicking on the "News" tab.  This is a unilateral offer by SoundExchange, and does not reflect an agreement with the Small Commercial Webcasters (the “SCWs”) who participated in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding to set the rates for 2006-2010 and who are currently appealing the CRB decision to the US Court of Appeals (see our notes on the appeal, here). The SoundExchange offer, while it may suffice for some small operators who do not expect their businesses to grow beyond the limits set out in the SWSA (and who only play music from SoundExchange artists – see the limitations described below), still does not address many of the major issues that the SCWs raised when SoundExchange first made a similar proposal in May, and should not be viewed by Congress or the public as a resolution of the controversy over the webcasting royalties set out by the CRB decision (see our summary of the CRB decision here).

The proposal of SoundExchange simply turns their offer made in May, summarized here, into a formal proposal.  It does not address the criticisms leveled against the offer when first made in May, that the monetary limits on a small webcaster do not permit small webcasters to grow their businesses – artificially condemning them to be forever small, at best minimally profitable operations, in essence little more than hobbies. The provisions of the Small Webcasters Settlement Act were appropriate in 2002 when they were adopted to cover streaming for the period from 1998 through 2005, as the small webcasters were just beginning to grow their businesses in a period when streaming technologies were still new to the public and when these companies were still exploring ways to make money from their operations. Now that the public has begun to use streaming technologies on a regular basis, these companies are looking to grow their businesses into real businesses that can be competitive in the vastly expanding media marketplace. The rates and terms proposed by SoundExchange simply do not permit that to occur. 


Continue Reading Another Offer From SoundExchange – Still Not a Solution

In a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC last week asked for public comment on a series of initiatives to promote the ownership of broadcast stations by minorities and other Socially Disadvantaged Businesses ("SDBs").  These proposals, which include the potential for the sale without requiring any divestitures of clusters of radio stations which exceed the multiple ownership rules now in effect, and the potential for investors to invest in stations controlled by SDBs, even if such investment would otherwise violate the existing multiple ownership rules.  The Further Notice was issued in response to a petition filed over a year ago by the Minority Media Telecommunications Council, which asked for a withdrawal of the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Multiple Ownership Rules (which we summarized here) because that Notice did not address the promotion of minority ownership of broadcast stations.  MMTC claimed that the Third Circuit’s remand of the 2003 Multiple Ownership decision mandated that consideration.  Comments on the Further Notice, which will be resolved as part of the current multiple ownership proceeding, are due on October 1, and replies on October 15

The Notice raises a number of suggestions for regulatory changes to foster the ownership of broadcast stations by minority owners and other SDBs.  In addition to allowing the transfer of grandfathered radio clusters that no longer comply with the multiple ownership rules, these include specific proposals that would accomplish the following:

  • Allowing investment by exiting broadcasters and others with attributable media interests into companies controlled by minorities without the investment being counted against the ownership holdings of the investing company
  • Allowing minority groups to purchase unbuilt construction permits, and get sufficient time to construct those stations, even if the construction permit is otherwise to expire as it has been outstanding and unbuilt for over three years
  • Granting some non-minority owned companies waivers to exceed the multiple ownership limits if they sell stations to SDBs (including a proposal to create tradable credits for creating minority-owned stations)
  • Allowing for the waiver of the alien ownership limits if the investment by foreign companies would assist a minority-owned company in getting into the broadcast business.
  • Revival of the policies permitting minority distress sales (where a broadcaster against whom there were issues pending which could lead to a revocation of a license could sell their station to a minority group and avoid the revocation proceeding) and minority tax credits  (where a broadcaster who sells to a minority group could defer gains on sale if the money was reinvested into any broadcast company in the future)


Continue Reading FCC Proposes Multiple Ownership Exceptions to Foster Minority Ownership

Last week brought more action, and not much in the way of  results, as we count down to the July 15 effective date of the new Internet Radio Royalties.  The actions that received the largest amount of press coverage were the hearing before the US House of Representatives Small Business Committee, and the offer by SoundExchange suggesting that the minimum $500 per channel fee be capped at $2500 per service. While both initially seemed to offer the prospect of some resolution of the dispute over the Internet Radio royalties that were adopted by the Copyright Royalty Board, in fact neither ultimately resulted in much.

The Committee hearing featured webcasters and musicians – equally divided between those who believed that the royalties were fairly decided, and those who believed that the rates were too high.  The one thing on which most of the witnesses seemed to agree was that some rate adjustment was warranted for small webcasters, though no one was able to quantify how such a settlement should be reached.  The Congressional representatives, on the other hand, were cautious to act, asking again and again whether the parties were going to be able to settle the case between themselves.  While Congressman Jay Inslee testified in favor of his Internet Radio Equality Act, the members of the committee seemed hesitant to act while there were judicial avenues of relief still pending, and the possibility of settlement.


Continue Reading Minimum Per Channel Fee Offer – Waiting for the Stay?

As the clock ticks down to the July 15 effective date of the royalty rates for Internet Radio as determined by the Copyright Royalty Board, webcasters held a Day of Silence today, June 26, to demonstrate to listeners what may well happen if the rates go into effect, and to galvanize their listeners to ask Congress for relief. With the Day of Silence bringing publicity to the Congressional efforts to put the webcasting royalties on hold and to change the standard applied by the Copyright Royalty Board so that it is not focused completely on a hypothetical "willing buyer, willing seller" model, it’s worth looking at some of the other issues that have arisen in the royalty battle in the last few days – including further pleadings filed in connection with the Motion for Stay currently pending in the US Court of Appeals, and the Congressional hearing that will occur on Thursday. 

As we’ve written before, there is currently pending a Motion for Stay of the CRB decision which was submitted jointly by the large and small webcasters and NPR.  Last week, the Department of Justice, acting on behalf of the Copyright Royalty Board to defend the royalty decision, and SoundExchange, each filed oppositions to the Motion for Stay. Each raised many of the same arguments. First, they argued that the large webcasters had procedurally forfeited their rights to challenge the question of the $500 per channel minimum fee by not raising their objection early enough in the CRB proceeding. The DOJ also argued that the damage from the minimum fee was speculative as there was no way to know how that minimum fee would be interpreted. The DOJ contended that, as it was unclear that SoundExchange would prevail on any claim that those Internet Radio services that produced a unique stream for each listener would have to pay $500 for each such stream, the question might end up in a lawsuit – but wouldn’t inevitably lead to the irreparable harm that is necessary for a stay to be issued.


Continue Reading A Day of Silence, A Motion for Stay, and A Congressional Hearing – As the Internet Radio Clock Ticks Down