sound recording royalty

The big news in the music world this week is that Apple finally is able to sell digital downloads of the Beatles catalog in its iTunes music store.  For years, the copyright holders who control the Beatles master recordings have withheld permission to use the Beatles recordings on iTunes and other digital download and on-demand streaming services, seemingly afraid of diluting the value of their copyrights.  There are other bands who have had a similar reluctance to make their recordings available on-line.  While this impasse has now been broken by the biggest name among these digital holdouts, at least as to iTunes, some have asked why it is that the Beatles were never missing from Internet radio, while they were absent from these other services.  The answer is the statutory license under which Internet Radio operates.

While there have been many disputes over the royalties that have been imposed under the statutory license created by Congress which allow non-interactive digital music companies to use sound recordings to provide music to their customers, there is no question that the license has fulfilled one of its primary functions – making sure that there is access by Internet radio operators to the entire catalog of sound recordings available in the United States.  One of the principal reasons that the statutory license was created was the inherent difficulty, if not the impossibility, for a radio-like digital service operating under the sound recoding performance royalty first adopted in 1995 to secure permission from all of the copyright holders of all of the music that such services might want to use.  Thus, Congress adopted the statutory license which requires the copyright holder to make available its sound recordings to non-interactive services, in exchange for the service agreeing to pay a statutory royalty – the royalty now set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  But only non-interactive services, where listeners cannot select the songs that they hear, are covered by that statutory royalty (see our summary here of one of the cases dealing with the question of what is and what is not a non-interactive service).


Continue Reading Apple iTunes Gets the Beatles – Why Internet Radio Had Them All Along

The debate over the proposed performance royalty (or "performance tax") on over-the-air radio is once again front page news in all of the broadcast trade press, as radio executives who make up the NAB Radio Board reportedly are making their way to Washington, DC to decide on whether to pursue a settlement with those seeking to impose the royalty.  What’s on the table?  Reportedly a very low (perhaps 1% of revenue as reported in some of the trades) royalty for terrestrial radio, a royalty set in legislation for at least a several year period.  In exchange, broadcasters would get a break on streaming royalties and a push towards getting working FM chips into cell phones – a potentially big audience boost for radio operators.  But from all we have heard, this is not, by any means, a done deal.  What will happen?

We wrote just a few weeks ago about a proposed settlement and why it might or might not be a good idea, and received many comments on our post.  As was clear from the comments, many are not sure why a settlement of any sort makes sense at this point, when the NAB has so far bottled up the royalty in Congress, and where the next Congress is, at least in the eyes of many, going to be far more Republican and, in some people’s eyes, a lot less likely to impose the royalty.  Proponents of a settlement respond that the royalty is not necessarily a partisan issue, with Republicans such as Senator Hatch of Utah, Congressman Issa of California, and many members of the Tennessee delegation taking strong positions in favor of the royalty.  So, just because there is a change in Congress (if it in fact occurs) does not necessarily mean that the current Performance Rights Act or some other version of the royalty proposal would be dead.  Moreover, as we wrote in our recent post, there still is the remainder of the current Congress to get through, including the "lame duck" session after the election, when Congressmen who may no longer have jobs will be voting on much legislation, including many big budget bills in which a performance royalty rider can get hidden. 


Continue Reading NAB Board Comes to DC to Discuss Radio Performance Royalties – Is There a Deal in the Works?

The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the bill to impose a performance royalty (or the "performance tax" as the NAB had called it) on radio broadcasters for the public performance of sound recordings on their over-the-air stations.  As was the case in the House of Representatives when its Judiciary Committee approved their version of the bill, the Committee acknowledged that there was still work to do before a final bill would be ready for the full Congress.  Nevertheless, this is the first time that the Judiciary Committees in both Houses of Congress have approved the performance royalty, serving as a warning to broadcasters that this issue may well be moving to a showdown before the full House and Senate during the current session of Congress. 

There was only limited debate on the bill at the Committee hearing, yet several open issues were identified.  The Committee made clear that, even though it was approving the bill in the form introduced and amended by its managers, there were still changes that would be made in the future before any legislation was ready to be finalized.  Senator Feinstein of California discussed several of the issues.  First, the bill as amended by the Senate managers (Senators Leahy and Hatch), the bill provided relief for small broadcasters so that any performance royalty would not impose an undue burden on them.  The bill proposed the following royalty structure for small broadcasters:

(I) revenues of less than $50,000 – a royalty fee of $100 per year;

(II) revenues of at least $50,000 but less than $100,000 – a royalty fee of $500 per year;

(III) revenues of at least $100,000 but less than $500,000 – a royalty of $2,500 per year;

(IV) revenues of at least $500,000 but less than $1,250,000 – a royalty of $5,000 per year.

Senator Feinstein, who stated that she favored parity between all music services that pay a royalty, suggested that this same royalty structure should be applied to small webcasters who, under current settlement agreements, can pay almost 30 times the amount that a small broadcaster with the same revenues would pay under this bill – and those settlements were an improvement on the royalties that would have been paid under the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board.  Senator Feinstein stated that "the parties" were working on an agreement that would amend the bill to extend these rates to small webcasters.


Continue Reading Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Broadcast Performance Royalty – With Issues Yet to Resolve

Last week, the FCC released a decision denying objections to the sale of the NY Times-owned radio station in New York City – objections based on the fears of certain listeners that the sale would mean the loss of the station’s classical music service.  In rejecting the petitions, the FCC relied on the long-standing policy of the FCC not to get into format questions, citing a thirty year old policy statement, upheld by a Supreme Court decision, which found that such review "would not benefit the public, would deter innovation, and would impose substantial administrative burdens on the Commission."  In other words, the Commission concluded some thirty years ago that it had no place in making programming decisions for broadcasters.  It is ironic that this decision was released on the same date as comments were due at the FCC on the MusicFirst petition arguing that broadcasters should be compelled to air specific content – commercials that advocate the adoption of a performance royalty and music from performers who supported the royalty. 

It appears from a review of the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System that, while the FCC solicited comments on the MusicFirst petition, MusicFirst itself did not choose to file anything in response to that request.  A few musicians’ groups did file comments, echoing the concerns originally raised by MusicFirst, but with very little specificity to support the implication that there was a nationwide conspiracy of broadcasters to boycott music from royalty supporters.  And, while most of the comments stated that they did not want to abridge the First Amendment rights of broadcasters, they nevertheless went on to say that broadcasters who did not air statements in support of the royalty should have sanctions imposed.  Maybe I’m missing something, but that sure seems to be an invitation to government compelled speech.   The NAB filed extensive comments addressing the First Amendment implications of the complaint. 


Continue Reading FCC Says It Will Stay Out of Programming Decisions – On Same Day MusicFirst Petition Comments Were Due

Noncommercial webcasters were provided with two royalty options under settlements reached with SoundExchange pursuant to the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 ("WSA").  One settlement was with Noncommercial Educational Webcasters.  The other, when announced, was characterized by SoundExchange as being a settlement with noncommercial religious broadcasters, though it applies to any noncommercial webcaster who elects to be subject to its terms.  As set forth below, except for certain mid-sized noncommercial webcasters who have more forgiving recordkeeping options under the Educational deal, it would seem that the settlement with the religious broadcasters provides far more advantageous terms, and it also reaches back to cover the period from 2006 through 2010.  The Educational webcasters agreement covers only the rates for the periods from 2011-2015.  These settlements provide another example of the issue raised before the Senate Judiciary Committee of the arbitrary nature of the precedential nature that will be accorded to WSA settlements in future webcasting proceedings.  The noncommercial agreement with significantly higer prices has been accorded precedential weight in future CRB proceedings, while the one with lower rates is, by its terms, not precedential in future proceedings.

It is easiest to start with a review of the ‘Religious" broadcaters settlement (which, as we said above, is open to any noncommecial webcaster).  The agreement provides for a $500 per channel fee for each channel or stream offered by the noncommercial webcaster.  For that flat fee of $500 per channel, the webcaster can stream up to 159,140 monthly aggregate tuning hours of programming on each stream.  An Aggregate Tuning Hour ("ATH") is one hour of programming streamed to one person.  Thus, if you have 2 people who each listen for an hour, you would have two aggegate tuning hours.  A station with 2 listeners who each listen for half an hour would have one ATH of listening.  4 listeners for 15 minutes each would also add up to one ATH.  The 159,140 monthly ATH number represents listening of approximately 221 average simultaneous listeners 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  If a webcaster exceeds this listening level, it must pay for excess listening on a per performance (per song per listener) basis, at the rates set out below.


Continue Reading Details of Webcasting Royalty Settlements for Noncommercial Webcasters Including Educational and Religious Internet Radio Operators

The recent settlement on Internet radio royalties between Sirius XM Radio and SoundExchange provides yet another option for commercial webcasters trying to determine the royalties to be paid for the public performance of sound recordings.  While the settlement is signed by just these two parties, it will be published in the Federal Register and be available for all commercial webcasters who comply with its terms – which will essentially be any webcaster who is not a "Broadcaster" as defined in the NAB Settlement, about which we wrote here.  As set forth below, the royalty rates available under this settlement are slightly lower for 2009 and 2010 than those set by the Copyright Royalty Board back in 2007, but slightly higher than those available under the NAB settlement.  However, in 2013-2015, the rates available under this deal are actually lower than those agreed to by the NAB, meaning that they present a better deal for webcaster expecting their audiences to grow in the next few years.

First, the most important issue – how much will it cost?  As with the CRB decision, the NAB deal, and the Pureplay deal (about which we wrote here) as it applies to large pureplay webcasters, the rates established by the deal are based on a "per performance" charge.   A performance is one song as listened to by one listener.  So if a song is played on an Internet radio station subject to the deal and 100 people are listening at the time the song is played, there are 100 performances.  The rates established by the deal are as follows:

           Year              Rate per Performance

2009                      $0.0016

2010                      $0.0017

2011                      $0.0018

2012                      $0.0020

2013                      $0.0021

2014                      $0.0022

                        2015                      $0.0024


Continue Reading Details on Sirius XM and SoundExchange Settlement on Internet Radio Royalties – An Option for Some Commericial Webcasters

One of the fundamental questions that surrounds the proposed broadcast performance royalty for the use of sound recordings by over-the-air (or the "performance tax" as it has been labeled by the NAB) is how much it could it cost a broadcaster?  Right now, that question is difficult to determine, as the pending bills do not themselves provide any details as to what the fees would be, except for noncommercial entities and for small broadcasters for whom fixed yearly fees are proposed.  For a broadcaster with a station having over $1.25 million in yearly revenues, the current Congressional bills leave the amount of the royalty to be determined by the Copyright Royalty Board.  In the current Senate draft of the bill, the amount to be paid would be based on the "willing buyer willing seller" standard that has been so controversial for Internet Radio companies. But the hearing to be held by the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow will address, among other issues, the question of "platform parity," i.e whether all companies subject to the sound recording performance royalty should pay a comparable rate, so we may see that proposal change as it did in the House version, to some form of the 801(b) standard (about which we wrote here and here).

We will write about the differing rates paid by differing music services in the next few days, especially as it becomes clear as to what rates for Internet radio royalties were agreed to under the most recent settlements with webcasters pursuant to the Webcaster Settlement Act.   But even without a detailed analysis of all of the rates that have been agreed to, certain trends can be seen as to what SoundExchange, on behalf of the artists and copyright holders, believes to be a fair royalty for the use of their music.  And that number is likely to be a "Substantial" one, as suggested by a recent Congressional Budget Office review of the cost to broadcasters of the proposed performance royalty.


Continue Reading Broadcast Performance Royalty – What Would It Cost? The Congressional Budget Office Says A “Substantial” Amount

Even though the National Association of Broadcasters has been successful in getting about 240 Congressional Representatives (far more than a majority of the House of Representatives) to sign onto a resolution opposing the adoption of a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings by broadcasters in their over-the-air programming, the efforts to enact that legislation have not died.  In fact, if anything, these efforts by the recording industry and related associations have intensified – and will be reflected in a hearing to be held by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.   While I’ve seen some commentary suggesting that this is a futile effort because of the signatures on the NAB resolution, there are many reasons that broadcasters must continue to  be wary of the imposition of the royalty, and why they must keep up efforts to stop it from being enacted if they fear its potential impact.

How can this legislation be enacted if a majority of the House of Representatives have signed the resolution stating their opposition?  First, it is important to recognize that the NAB resolution, The Local Radio Freedom Act, is nonbinding.  Congressional representatives who have signed on to the resolution can take credit with their local broadcasters for having done so.  When the time comes for a vote on proposed legislation, it’s possible that these same Representatives could change their mind, or be pressured by artists and labels in their districts to vote differently from their previously expressed sentiments.  With a long way to go in this session of Congress, facing a vote on the royalty and seeing how committed these Representatives are to the positions that they have taken on the resolution is still a real possibility.  The legislation imposing the royalty (or the "performance tax" in the words of the NAB) has passed the House Judiciary Committee, and the Speaker of the House has not yet specifically stated that the bill will not come to a full House vote, even though she has been pressed to do so by broadcast interests.


Continue Reading The Broadcast Performance Royalty – Not Dead Yet, as Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearing on Tuesday

The Pureplay Webcasters settlement agreement, which we summarized here, was published in the Federal Register on Friday, starting the 30 day clock running for the election of the deal by existing webcasters.  While this deal offers better per performance rates to large webcasters than offered by the rates established by the Copyright Royalty Board, and higher permissible listening levels to Small Commercial Pureplay webcasters than allowed under the Microcaster deal, this option still is not for everyone.  For larger webcasters, there is a minimum fee of 25% of total revenue, so companies with multiple lines of business will not want to opt into the deal.  For smaller webcasters, the fees are higher than under the Microcaster deal, including a $25,000 minimum yearly fee, and there are per performance rates that are charged when the webcaster offers services that are "syndicated," i.e. played through a website other than that of the webcaster itself.  So electing this deal is right only for larger "small pureplay" webcasters who have revenues over $250,000 (where they will be paying royalties in excess of the $25,000 minimum fee under any deal) and those entities nearing the audience caps of the Microcaster deal.  Nevertheless, for those webcasters who fit within the constraints of the deal, it offers benefits over the other existing options.  The opt-in date set by the deal is August 17, 2009.  The forms to opt into the the Small Pureplay webcasters agreement are here.  The forms for larger Pureplay webcasters are here

Note that this is just one of many options available to webcasters, each tailored to webcasters of specific types.  Noncommercial webcasters associated with NPR or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have their own deal, where essentially CPB pays the royalties.  See our description of this deal, hereStreaming done by broadcasters, who would not want to take the "pureplay" deal as their broadcast revenues would be subject to the royalties, have their own settlement agreement, which we described here and here, setting out per performance rates different than those arrived at by the CRB.  Small commercial webcasters can elect the "Microcaster" deal, which we described here.  And for those entities that don’t fit under any of these categories, they will have to pay the CRB rates, which we described here and here.  The Radio and Internet Newsletter recently ran a good, basic summary of these alternatives, here.  Note that there still is another two week period where, under the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009, agreements can be reached with SoundExchange by other webcaster groups to potentially pay rates that are different from any of those agreed to so far.


Continue Reading Pureplay Webcasters Settlement Agreement Published In Federal Register – 30 Days for Webcasters to Make a Choice

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today released its decision for the most part rejecting the appeals of webcasters of the 2007 decision of the Copyright Royalty Board setting Internet Radio royalty rates for the use of sound recordings.  The Court generally upheld the Board’s decision, finding that the issues raised by the appealing parties did not show that the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" – a high standard of judicial review that the Courts accord when reviewing supposedly "expert" administrative agency decisions.  On only one issue did the Court have concerns with the CRB’s decision – that being the question of the $500 per channel minimum fees that it had required that webcasters pay.  The Court found that per channel fee, which could result in astronomical fees for some webcasters regardless of their listenership, was not supported by the record evidence, and remanded that aspect of the case to the CRB for further consideration.

The Court surprised some observers by not reaching the constitutional issue of whether the Copyright Royalty Judges were properly appointed.  As we wrote before (see our posts here and here), issues were raised by appellant Royalty Logic, contending that these Judges should be appointed by the President, and not by the Librarian of Congress.  In the recent Court decision on the CRB rates for satellite radio, where the issue had not even been raised, one Judge nevertheless wrote that he questioned the constitutionality of the CRB.  The Court here decided not to decide the issue – finding that it had been raised too late by Royalty Logic, and raised too many fundamental issues (including whether the Register of Copyrights should herself be appointed by the President, potentially invalidating many copyrights) to be decided on the minimal briefing accorded it by the parties.


Continue Reading Court Rejects Webcaster Challenge to Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Internet Radio Royalties – And Does Not Rule on Constitutional Issue of CRB Appointment