sound recording performance royalty

In discussing music royalties, the controversy that usually makes the news is the dispute between music services and copyright holders – with services arguing that the royalties are too high and rightsholders contending that they are underpaid. The introduction of the Songwriters Equity Act in Congress earlier this year seems to point toward a new area of dispute – one between the various rightsholders themselves.  This issue was one that was much discussed on a panel that I moderated last week at the RAIN Summit West (audio of that panel is available here).  What is this conflict?

The Songwriters Equity Act, while not explicit in identifying the controversy, does point to the dispute. As we have written many times before, in any piece of recorded music, there are two copyrights – the sound recording copyright (also known as the “master recording,” the recording of a particular song by a particular artist, rights usually held by the record label), and the right to the musical work (or “musical composition,” the words and music to a song, usually held by a publishing company).  The proposed legislation suggests that the amount of the royalties for the public performance of sound recordings can be taken into account in setting the royalties that are payable to songwriters for the public performance of the songs that they have written.  This would amend Section 114(i) of the Copyright Act, which currently prohibits the consideration of the sound recording royalty in determining the rates to be paid for the public performance of musical works.  The proposed legislation would also substitute the “willing buyer, willing seller” standard for the 801(b) standard in setting rates under Section 115 of the Copyright Act, the mechanical royalty (see our discussion of the difference between these standards, here).  While this does not sound like a big deal, it may have a significant impact.
Continue Reading

The Copyright Office recently issued a Notice and Request for Public Comment on a study that they have commenced on music licensing in all of its forms.  We’ve written about the complexity of the music licensing process many times, and about proposals for reform.  Many of these proposals have been issued in connection with the speeches of Copyright Register Maria Pallante’s discussion of copyright reform (see our article here), and the subsequent Green Paper on Copyright issued by the Patent and Trademark Office (see our article here).  This Notice appears to be one more step in this overall review of copyright underway throughout the administration and in Congress.  The Notice released by the Copyright Office is wide-ranging, and touches on almost every area of controversy in music licensing.  Comments are due on May 16, and the Copyright Office promises to hold roundtable discussions to further explore the issues in music licensing.

The issues on which the Copyright Office asks for comments deal both with the licensing of the musical composition or musical work (the words and music of a song) and the sound recording (the song as actually recorded by a particular artist).  The request deals with both the public performance right for musical compositions, usually licensed through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, and the rights to make reproductions of the works, which are usually licensed by the music publishers, sometimes through organizations like the Harry Fox Agency.  On the sound recording side of the music world, the rights are usually licensed by the record company except for the public performance royalties paid by non-interactive music services, which are collected in the United States by SoundExchange. 
Continue Reading

No one ever claimed that music royalties are easy to understand, especially in the digital age when nice, neat definitions that had grown up over many years in the physical world no longer necessarily make sense. The complexity of the world of digital music licensing is clear from many sources, but the Commerce Department’s “Green Paper” on Copyright Policy, Creativity, and Innovation in the Digital Economy does a good job discussing many of the music royalty issues that have arisen in the last 20 years that make copyright so confusing for professionals, and pretty much incomprehensible for those not immersed in the intricacies of copyright law on a regular basis. The Green Paper discusses some of the issues in music policy that make this area so confusing, and highlights where interested parties and lawmakers should focus their efforts to reform current rules to make them workable in the digital age. The Paper also discusses other areas of copyright policy that we will try to address in other articles.  You can find the Green Paper here (though note that it is about 120 pages and will take some time to download).

One of the most controversial issues that it addresses is the concept of a general performance right for sound recordings. As did Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante in the speech we summarized here, the Commerce Department puts the current administration on record as supporting the creation of such a right – a right that has not existed in the United States, except for a limited sound recording performance royalty for performances by digital audio companies like webcasters (see our summary of the royalty rates paid by different types of Internet Radio services here) and satellite radio (see our summary of the royalties to be paid by Sirius XM under the most recent Copyright Royalty Board decision). While the most controversial aspect of the creation of a broad sound recording performance royalty has been in connection with the extension of that royalty to broadcasters, the adoption of a general royalty, as advocated by the Green Paper would extend payment obligations to others who publicly perform sound recordings – including bars, restaurants, stadiums and other retail establishments.


Continue Reading

With the National Association of Broadcasters big convention coming up next week in Las Vegas, this week we’ll look at a couple of the issues that will likely be discussed when the industry gathers for its annual reunion. On Sunday, before most of the NAB Show begins, the Radio and Internet Newsletter (RAIN) will be holding its RAIN Summit West, where I will be moderating a panel called The Song Plays On – which will focus on the music royalties paid by Internet Radio and other digital music services. We’ll not focus on what the current royalties are, but instead to try to explore what they could be in the future. This is really one of the most difficult issues in the industry, as the two sides (and really there are many more than two sides to this issue) come at the issue from far different perspectives. We will try to bridge those differences and explore where there might be common ground for music users and copyright holders to come together to arrive at mutually beneficial solutions to this thorny issue.

The Internet Radio Fairness Act introduced in Congress last year brought this issue into sharp focus. That Act sought to bring about a number of reforms in the way that the Copyright Royalty Board sets various music royalties – particularly the rates that apply to Internet radio stations. We wrote about the provisions of the bill dealing with Internet radio royalties soon after the bill was introduced. After that article, there was a Congressional hearing on the issue, and lots of debate before the bill died at the end of the year as the session of Congress expired. This year, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee has promised a number of hearings on all aspects of music and audio copyright issues, though none have yet been scheduled. But the debate about IRFA last year illustrated the divide between the various sides in the music royalty debate. 


Continue Reading

What should SoundExchange do with money that it collects for the performance of sound recordings, when it does not know what sound recordings were played by a particular service?  As we’ve written many times on this blog, SoundExchange collects royalties from digital music services , including satellite radio, cable radio and webcasters, for the performance of sound recordings (i.e. a recording of a song by a particular artist).  It is charged with the obligation to distribute these royalties one-half to those who hold of the copyright to the sound recording and one-half to the artists who perform on those recordings.  However, SoundExchange, according to a filing recently made with the Copyright Royalty Board, does not always know which songs were played by a particular music service.  Thus, it has had difficulty distributing all of the money it collects – currently holding $28 Million in royalties from the period 2004 to 2009 that have not been distributed.  Why?  According to SoundExchange much of the problem is that not all services report what they played and how often, and other information that is submitted is sometimes inaccurate or otherwise does not adequately identify the music that was played.  To deal with this problem, SoundExchange has asked that the Copyright Royalty Board authorize it to use proxy information to distribute these funds from 2004-2009.  The CRB has asked for comments on that proposal.  Comments are due on May 19.

What is proxy information?  Basically, SoundExchange plans to infer from the information that it does have what music was played by the services for which it has no information.  According to the SoundExchange filing, they would make these assumptions based on the type of service.  Thus, information from webcasters would be used to estimate what other webcasters were playing.  Information from background music services who did report would be used to determine what other background music services played, and so on.  The CRB, in its request for comments, asks if the proxy should be further broken down so that, for instance, noncommercial webcasters would serve as a proxy for other noncommercial webcasters, and commercial webcasters would serve as a proxy for other commercial webcasters.  The Copyright Royalty Judges are also seeking to assess whether SoundExchange has done all that it can do to get the required information, and if the proxy system is a fair way of determining distributions for the money that has not yet been awarded to rightsholders and artists. 

Does this proposal have any impact on the services themselves?  Apparently not, as SoundExchange is at this point only looking for this authority in order to distribute money collected for royalties that came in from 2004 to 2009.  It does not appear to be looking at imposing any new restrictions on webcasters or other digital music services.  Instead, it is only looking for the authority to distribute the money that it has already collected based on the information that it has available.  What should music services take away from this request?


Continue Reading

The NAB Radio Board today voted to adopt a Terms Sheet to offer to the musicFirst Coalition which, if agreed to by musicFirst and adopted by Congress, will settle the contentious issue of whether to impose a sound recording performance royalty (the "performance tax") on over-the-air broadcasters.  If adopted, that will mean that broadcasters in the United States, for the first time, will pay a royalty to artists and record labels, in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC that go to the composers of the music.  What does the Term Sheet provide, and what will this mean for broadcasters, webcasters and others who pay music royalties?

The Term Sheet sets out a number of points, including the following:

  • A 1% of gross revenue sound recording royalty to be paid to SoundExchange
  • A phase-in period for the 1% royalty, that will be tied to the number of mobile phones that contain an FM chip.  A royalty of one-quarter of one percent would take effect immediately upon the effective date of the legislation adopting it.  The royalty would rise in proportion to the number of mobile phones with enabled FM chips.  Once the percentage of phones with FM chips reached 75%, the full royalty would take effect.
  • The 1% royalty could only be changed by Congressional action.
  • The royalty would be lower for noncommercial stations and stations with less than $1.25 million in revenue – from a flat $5000 for stations making between $500,000 and $1.25 million in revenue down to $100 for those making less than $50,000 per year.
  • Broadcasters would also get a reduction in their streaming rates – but only when FM chips in mobile phones exceed 50% penetration.  The reduction would be tied to the rates paid by "pureplay webcasters" (see our summary of the Pureplay webcasters deal here), but would be set at a level significantly higher than pureplay webcasters, rising from $.001775 in 2011 (if FM chips were quickly deployed) to $.0021575.
  • Future streaming royalties would not be set by the Copyright Royalty Board but by a legislatively ordered rate court – presumably a US District Court similar to that which hears royalty disputes for ASCAP and BMI.
  • An acknowledgment by AFTRA that broadcasters can stream their signal on the Internet in their entirety – apparently agreeing to relieve broadcasters from any liability for the additional amounts due to union artists when commercials featuring union talent are streamed
  • An agreement that broadcasters can directly license music from artists and reduce their  liability for the new royalty by the percentage of music that the broadcasters is able to directly license
  • Agreements to "fix" issues in Sections 112 and 114 of the Copyright Act in making the provisions of these laws regarding ephemeral copies and the performance complement consistent with the waivers that major record labels gave to broadcasters when the NAB reached its settlement with SoundExchange on streaming royalties last year.  See our post here on the provisions of those waivers.
  • musicFirst would need to acknowledge the promotional effect of radio in promoting new music, and would need to work with radio in attempting to secure legislation mandating the FM chip in mobile phones.

[Clarification – 10/26/2010 – Upon a close reading of the Terms Sheet, it looks like the phase in of the 1% royalty and the delay in the streaming discount only kick in if Congress does not mandate active FM chips in cell phones.  If the mandate is enacted, then the full 1% royalty and streaming discount is effective immediately. Given the opposition of much of the wireless industry to a mandated FM chip, this may represent a recognition that the legislation requiring the active FM chip will not be enacted in the near future]

What does this all mean?


Continue Reading

The broadcast trade press has recently been full of talk of the possibility of reaching a settlement with the recording industry on the adoption of a Performance Royalty for broadcast stations -paying performers and record companies for the use of music by radio stations (on top of the fees already paid through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC to composers).  The latest controversy was set off by comments made at the Conclave Radio Conference by Bonneville Radio’s CEO Bruce Reese, who has also been prominent in NAB activities, who suggested that broadcasters were on the defensive in Congress, and that a good settlement was better than a bad legislative outcome.  Other broadcasters have disagreed with Reese’s assessment, asking why broadcasters would be willing to settle when they have a majority of Congress on their side, having signed the NAB-supported resolution opposing the royalty.  Which side is right?

It should be emphasized that, even though broadcast groups have done an amazing job rounding up support for their opposition to the "performance tax" – signing up far more than a majority of the House of Representatives on a resolution opposing the royalty – that resolution is non-binding.  Congressmen can change their mind, and of even more concern, the proposed performance royalty can end up getting tagged on to some must-pass legislation that Congress needs to adopt before the end of the year.  Congress has many budget bills that need to pass to fund the government’s operation, and these huge bills have a way of attracting all sorts of unrelated matters being folded into their provisions.  With leaders of many important committees in the House and Senate being supporters of the royalty, its easy to imagine that one of these bills can end up with performance royalty language included.  While one broadcast trade publication suggests that NAB lobbyists are paid to stop this sort of thing from happening, it is unrealistic to believe that the NAB is invincible, as provisions on unrelated bills can pop up seemingly out of nowhere and surprise everyone, especially when pushed through by powerful congressional leaders who less committed representatives are unwilling to challenge (especially when to do so might mean voting against some important legislation to which the performance royalty is attached).  Congressman simply will not vote down the defense appropriations bill just because there is a performance tax attached.  This kind of maneuver is of particular concern given that many of these bills may well be considered after the election in November, during a "lame duck" session of Congress when, especially this year, there will be many representatives who may not be around again in January to face the wrath of voters (or of broadcasters) who may be disappointed by their final votes.


Continue Reading

The Copyright Royalty Board has announced its approval of new sound recording performance royalties for "new subscription services", i.e. music services provided to the customers of cable or satellite television systems by companies not in this business in 1998 at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.   This royalty was adopted after a settlement between Sirius XM Radio, the only music service which filed to participate in this proceeding, and SoundExchange.  The settlement as approved provides for royalties that are the higher of 15% of the revenues of the service (subscription payments plus other revenues such as advertising and sponsorships provided by the service), or a minimum per subscriber fee that increases over the five year course of the royalty period.  The details of this settlement, including the escalating per subscriber royalties, can be found in the Federal Register notice of its approval, here.

This royalty has very limited applicability, governing only the payments due from audio services "transmitted to residential subscribers of a television service through a Provider which is marketed as and is in fact primarily a video service," i.e. music services bundled with a subscription to a cable or DBS service – and only where that service is delivered to residential users.  Given the limited applicability of this service, one might be inclined to ignore its adoption.  However, broadcasters in particular should pay attention to this royalty, as it is again indicative of the value that the music copyright holders and SoundExchange place on the use of their music in an audio service, and thus of what SoundExchange would seek were they to get a performance royalty on over-the-air broadcasting.   


Continue Reading

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

This week, six Congressional supporters of the broadcast performance royalty wrote a letter calling upon the NAB to sit down with music industry representatives to reach a "negotiated resolution" of the "longstanding disagreement" in a session to last from November 17 through December 1.  The letter suggests that the negotiations will be supervised by Members of Congress and the staff of the Judiciary Committees of Congress, with a report to be made by the Committee staff at the end of the negotiation period which will be considered by Congress in further actions on this issue.  The parties are instructed to bring individuals who have decision-making power to reach an agreement.  Could this call for negotiations really result in a deal that would lead to a law requiring that radio broadcasters pay a fee for the use of sound recordings on their over-the-air stations?

First, we must ask whether there will even be any negotiations.  The NAB’s only statement issued thus far says that they are willing to "talk to Congress" about the matter, but that they hoped that the discussion would include some of the almost 300 members of Congress who oppose the royalty.  As we’ve written before, the NAB has over 250 Congressmen and over 20 Senators signed on to resolutions opposing the performance royalty.  With the initial letter being signed by 6 supporters of the royalty, and the Judiciary Committees of both the House and Senate being filled with its supporters, why would the NAB be willing to jump into what could be seen as the lion’s den – engaging in a high stakes competition where the referees are on the record as favoring one side?  Note that the NAB statement says nothing about participating in "negotiations", which the former President of the NAB had said that he would never do.  We will have to see whether the change at the top of the NAB will bring a change in the attitude of the NAB.  New NAB President Gordon Smith, who has been in his job less than two weeks,  is said to be more of a consensus-builder than his predecessor, but he has had a very short time to come up to speed on the issue or to build any sort of consensus among those he now represents on where to go on this issue. 


Continue Reading