sound recording royalties

In one week this month, Apple announced that it will get into Internet Radio, and Pandora, the biggest player in that space, announced that it will be buying a traditional, over-the-air radio station. What do these two big announcements say about the state of music royalties for digital music services? Apple’s struggles to get its service launched were well chronicled, as it was working to get an agreement for its new service from the record labels. What was less reported was its simultaneous negotiations with the music publishing community. Pandora’s radio station purchase, on the other hand, was admittedly a simple deal to take advantage of a blanket license available to all similarly situated companies owning radio stations. We’ll explain why these two deals were so different, and what impact the deals may have on other digital music services below.

The Apple deal is one negotiated with the copyright holders for the simple reason that the service that it is offering appears to be an interactive one, unlikely to be completely covered by any statutory (compulsory) or other blanket license. As we’ve written before, a statutory or compulsory license is one where the copyright holder, by law, cannot refuse to make available his or her copyrighted work. But, in return, the copyright holder receives a royalty set by the government – in the US, usually the Copyright Royalty Board. In the music world, the two most common compulsory licenses are the ones that allow webcasters and other digital music services to publicly perform sound recordings (the royalties paid by webcasters, satellite radio and digital cable radio companies to the record companies and artists), and the royalty that allows users (including record companies) to make reproductions of musical compositions in connection with the making of a sound recording, downloads, ringtones, and probably on-demand streaming services. This royalty is commonly referred to as the mechanical royalty, and is paid to songwriters and composers or their publishing companies. To qualify for these compulsory licenses, a company must follow certain rules. If they don’t, then they have to negotiate directly for the licenses from the copyright holder – which appears to be what Apple did.


Continue Reading Apple Announces an Internet Radio Offering and Pandora Buys a “Real” Radio Station – What Does It Mean for Music Royalties?

SiriusXM announced that is has filed a legal action, including antitrust claims, against SoundExchange and A2IM (the American Association of Independent Music – the association of independent record labels), charging, according to a press release, these two organizations "with unlawfully interfering in SiriusXM’s efforts to secure, through a competitive market, copyrights critical to its business. The complaint contends that the conduct violates federal antitrust, as well as New York state law." The claim is essentially that these defendants conspired to prevent SiriusXM from negotiating direct licenses with musicians, licenses that could take music out of the royalty scheme administered by the Copyright Royalty Board, where royalties are paid to SoundExchange.  We wrote about the attempts by SiriusXM to negotiate such direct licenses, and the opposition of music groups to these agreements, last year. 

Why would SoundExchange and A2IM oppose direct music licensing?  One reason is that music licenses that are directly negotiated between music users and rights holders are traditionally the best evidence of the value of music.  In recent rate court cases involving performing rights organizations, direct licenses formed crucial evidence of the value of music rights.  In cases dealing with ASCAP and BMI royalties for "business establishment" or "background music" services, evidence of direct licenses at rates significantly lower than previously established resulted in court decisions dropping rates by as much as two-thirds from the rates that ASCAP and BMI had previously been charging.  Were SiriusXM to be successful in its suit, and if it is in fact able to negotiate direct music licenses for substantial catalogs of music at rates lower than what it has paid under previous rate decisions, it would presumably introduce such evidence in proceedings before the Copyright Royalty Board (which is now in the process of setting the rates for the public performance of sound recordings by SiriusXM over its satellite service for the next 5 years), and argue that these direct deals are the best evidence of what a willing buyer and willing seller would agree to in a competitive marketplace. While the rates set by the CRB for SiriusXM are not like Internet radio rates and established solely based on a willing buyer, willing seller test, the question of marketplace rates is still a very important component to any CRB decision setting those rates (see our article here on the rates that SiriusXM currently pays to SoundExchange and the standard used to set such rates). 


Continue Reading Sirius XM Brings Law Suit Against SoundExchange Alleging Collusion to Stop Direct Licensing of Music – Impact on Royalties?

Last week, the Copyright Office published in the Federal Register the final decision of the Copyright Royalty Board on the statutory rates for Internet radio royalties – royalties paid by webcasters for the noninteractive streaming of sound recordings.  As we have made clear before, these are royalties that are paid in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of the musical compositions (see our memo on Using Music in Digital Media, here, that explains the difference between the sound recording and musical composition royalties).  The rates adopted by the CRB are the rates to be paid by any webcaster who has not elected alternative rates available under one of the many settlement agreements between SoundExchange and groups of webcasters, which were entered into under the Webcaster Settlement Acts.  The Final Decision corrects a few typos in the initial decision, but otherwise leaves the substantive holdings of the decision unchanged.  We described those holdings here.  While the publication of the final decision starts the clock running on filing an appeal, the new rates are unchanged from those that were in effect for 2010 for commercial webcasters who had not elected any available alternative set of rates.  Thus, these webcasters will continue to pay at the rate of $.0019 per “performance” (a performance being one listener listening to one song – e.g. if there are 100 people listening to a stream that plays 10 songs in an hour – there are 1000 performances in that hour) for the remainder of 2011.   The publication of these rates has, however, triggered a number of questions about the comparative royalties that different Internet radio services pay for streaming music on the Internet – rates summarized below.

As set out below in detail, there are significant differences in the royalties paid by different services for the 2011-2015 royalty period.  Broadcasters who are streaming their programming on the Internet pay lower per performance royalties than webcasters paying the statutory rate in the first years of the 5 year period, but higher rates at the end of the period. (See a summary of the Broadcaster royalty agreement here).  “Pureplay” webcasters, like Pandora, pay significantly lower per performance royalties than either broadcasters or those paying under the statutory rate, but are required to pay a minimum fee of 25% of the gross revenue of their entire business – ruling out these lower rates as an option for any service that has lines of business other than webcasting.  (See a summary of the Pureplay deal here).  The broadcaster deal and that which applies to the Pureplay webcasters were both arrived at pursuant to settlements reached under the two Webcaster Settlement Acts, passed in 2008 and 2009.  These allowed the groups covered by these agreements to negotiate with SoundExchange over the rates that would cover the industry for the digital noninteractive performances of sound recordings.  The statutory rates were arrived at by a decision of the Copyright Royalty Judges after litigation which took place last year.


Continue Reading Final Webcasting Royalty Rates Published – A Comparison of How Much Various Services Pay

The Copyright Office today announced an extension of time for the fling of comments in its inquiry into the possibe extension of Federal Copyright protection to pre-1972 sound recordings.  We provided a details of that proceeding here.  Internet radio operators and other digital music services that play significant numbers of pre-1972 sound recordings (particularly

Broadcasters need to be aware that ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (the "performing rights organizations" or PROs) don’t cover them for all uses of music – especially uses that may be made on station websites.  Offering downloads, podcasts, and streaming video featuring music all require specific permission from music rights holders.  And, as we wrote just

The battle over the broadcast performance royalty has begun anew, with the introduction of legislation to impose a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings on broadcast stations.  This royalty would be in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (which go to compensate composers of music), as this royalty would be paid to the performers of the music (and the copyright holders in the recorded performance – usually the record companies).  The statement released by the sponsors of the bill cites numerous reasons for its adoption – including the facts that most other countries have such a royalty, that satellite and Internet radio have to pay the royalty, and that it will support musicians who otherwise do not get compensated for the use of their copyrighted material.  The NAB has countered with a letter from its CEO David Rehr, arguing that musicians do in fact get  compensation through the promotional value that they get from the exposure of their music on broadcast stations.  The 50 state broadcast associations also sent a resolution to Congress, taking issue with the premises of the sponsors – citing the differences in the broadcast systems of the US and that of other countries where there is a performance royalty, and arguing that broadcasting is different from the digital services who have a greater potential for substitution for the purchase of music.  What does this bill provide?

The bill introduced this year are very similar to the legislation proposed last year (which we summarized here); legislation that passed the House Judiciary Committee but never made it to the full House, nor to the Senate.  Some of the provisions of this year’s version include:

  • Expansion of the public performance right applicable to sound recordings from digital transmissions to any transmission
  • Royalties for FCC-licensed noncommercial stations would be a flat $1000 per year
  • Royalties for commercial stations making less than $1.25 million in annual gross revenues would pay a flat $5000 per year.  There is no definition of what constitutes "gross revenues," and how a per station revenue figure could be computed in situations where stations are parts of broadcast clusters
  • Excludes royalties in connection with the use of music at religious services or assemblies and where the use of music is "incidental."  Incidental uses have been defined by Copyright Royalty Board regulations as being the use of "brief" portions of songs in transitions in and out of programs, or the brief use of music in news programs, or the use in the background of a commercial where the commercial is less than 60 seconds – all where an entire sound recording is not used and where the use is less than 30 seconds long
  • Allows for a per program license for stations that are primarily talk
  • Establishes that the rates established for sound recordings shall not have an adverse effect on the public performance right in compositions (i.e. they can’t be used as justification for lowering the ASCAP, BMI and SESAC rates)
  • Requires that 1% of any fees paid by a digital music service (such as a webcaster, or satellite radio operator) for the direct licensing of music by a copyright owner (usually the record company) be deposited with the American Federation of Musicians to be distributed to non-featured performers (background musicians), while the distribution of any fees to the featured performer be governed by the contract between the performer and record company
  • Requires that any 50% of any fees paid by a radio station for direct licensing of music be paid to the agent for collection of fees (i.e. SoundExchange) for distribution in the same manner that the statutory license fees are distributed (45% to the featured performer, 2.5% to background musicians, and 2.5% to background vocalists)


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty Battle Begins Anew – Bills Introduced in the House and Senate