Late last month, the Ask Musicians For Music Act (the “AMFM Act”) was introduced in both the House and Senate. If enacted, the AMFM Act would impose on over-the-air broadcast radio stations a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings in their programming. This is yet another bill proposing that the current royalty that requires that digital music services pay royalties both for the use of musical compositions (as already paid by broadcasters) and the sound recording (currently paid by broadcasters only for the Internet streams of their programming) be extended to cover all over-the-air broadcasts by radio stations. Extending the sound recording performance royalty to over-the-air radio has been proposed many times before (see, for instance, our articles hereherehere and here), but this is the first time that the proposal has been advanced in the current session of Congress. Similar bills were introduced last session before the 2018 elections but were never brought to a vote in either the House or the Senate – see our post here.

As we’ve written before, the royalties that broadcasters pay to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and even GMR are paid to the composers of music (and the copyright holders in the musical compositions, usually a publishing company). Sound recording royalties are paid to the performers (and the copyright holders in the performances, usually the record labels). These are the royalties that broadcasters pay to SoundExchange when they stream their programming on the Internet. Historically, in the US, broadcasters and other businesses who play sound recordings are not subject to a performance royalty for the use of those sound recordings (except for digital audio music services who do pay sound recording performance royalties in the US), though such royalties are paid in many other countries in the world. This bill proposes to make broadcasters pay for their over-the-air performances. Under the provisions of the bill, the Copyright Royalty Board would set these royalties along with those paid by digital audio services, and the royalties would be paid to SoundExchange.
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In one of those year-end decisions that got lost in the holiday rush, in late November, the Copyright Royalty Board issued its final ruling on the rates to be paid to SoundExchange by “business establishment services” for the ephemeral copies of sound recordings when these music services transmit programming to their customers. We wrote about the CRB’s proposal to adopt these rules in May of last year, and our comments on the decision remain relevant to explaining this order. A slightly revised version of our May post follows.

While Copyright Royalty Board decisions on royalties for webcasters, Sirius XM and mechanical royalties get most of the attention, the CRB also sets rates paid by “business establishment services” for the “ephemeral copies” made in their music businesses. Business establishment services are the companies that provide music to businesses to play in retail stores, restaurants and other commercial establishments. These services have come a long way from the elevator music that once was so derided – and now set the mood in all sorts of businesses with formats as varied as the commercial businesses themselves.  While the rates paid by these services pay for music rights is a little off-topic for this blog, these rates are a bit unusual, so they are worth mentioning.  The Copyright Royalty Board in May announced a proposed settlement between the services that were participating in the CRB case and SoundExchange which will raise the rates gradually from the current 12.5% of revenue to 13.5% over the next 5 years, with a minimum annual fee of $20,000, up from $10,000. These rates, which apply to any company that does not negotiate direct royalties with the sound recording copyright holders, went into effect on January 1, 2019 and will be in place through 2023.
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What does SoundExchange do when it collects royalties from an Internet radio operator, but the operator doesn’t provide complete information about the songs that were played?  That question was raised by the Copyright Royalty Board in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on a proposal by SoundExchange for the distribution of such royalties, about which we wrote here

SoundExchange claims on its website that webcaster SWCast.net was shut down when SoundExchange complained to its ISP that the service was not paying royalties for the use of the music played by the site.  SWCast was an aggregator of webcast channels created by other individuals, who paid the company – allegedly for the streaming and for the royalties that were due for that streaming.  According to the SoundExchange press release, the webcaster was shut down when SoundExchange "sent a letter requesting that the hosting ISP disable access to the SWCast site."  SoundExchange’s statement says that, despite repeated attempts to engage the webcaster, SWCast neither paid royalties nor filed reports of use for the songs streamed by the service, leading to SoundExchange’s action.  As far as we know, this is the first time that SoundExchange has taken such an action. 

How did this work?  While we have not seen the letter that SoundExchange sent to the ISP, we can assume that it alleged that SWCast was infringing on copyrighted materials by not paying the required royalties.  ISPs have a safe harbor under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, protecting them from liability for the infringement of users of their services, if the ISP does not encourage the infringement, registers an agent with the Copyright Office, and agrees to take down infringing content when properly notified by a copyright holder (see our post here).  We can only assume that SoundExchange or the copyright holders themselves notified the ISP that the material streamed by this webcaster was infringing as no royalties were being paid and, to protect itself, the ISP blocked access to the site.


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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.


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Each year, we remind webcasters about their obligations under various settlement agreements entered into with SoundExchange and under CRB decisions to make minimum payments and, in some cases, to file a Notice of Election to be covered under certain negotiated rates – all due by January 31.  All webcasters have minimum fee obligations due by January 31.  Many, though not all, Webcasters who have elected the the royalty rates set by many of the settlement agreements entered into pursuant to the Webcasters Settlement Act must also file an election notice with SoundExchange by January 31 to continue to be covered by those settlement agreements.   These agreements were entered into by groups of webcasters and SoundExchange, and allow the webcasters to pay royalties at rates lower than those rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board for 2011. 

While SoundExchange has, in the past, sent out reminders of these obligations to services that had paid in the prior year, sometimes these notices get lost, so Internet Radio operators need to remember to make these filings.  The original election forms filed under settlement agreements signed by the NAB and by Sirius XM cover the entire settlement period from 2006-2015, so no election form must be filed each year, though minimum fee payments must still be made.  Note that certain small broadcasters, who under the Broadcaster agreement need not comply with SoundExchange recordkeeping obligations, do need to file an election to certify that they still meet the standards necessary to count as a small broadcaster.  The WSA settlement agreements that cover Pureplay webcasters, Small Commercial webcasters, and certain Noncommercial Educational webcasters are all are entered into on a year-by-year basis (though, as noted below, there is a default in certain noncommercial webcasting agreements that, if you were covered in prior years, you will be continued to be covered in the current year, unless you opt out).  Thus, to continue to be covered, parties currently governed by these agreements need to file a Notice of Election to again be covered by these agreements by January 31.


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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

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.


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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. 


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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


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