soundexchange royalties

Last week, we noted that the Copyright Royalty Board had a notice on its website saying that, because of the government shutdown, it could not publish its notice soliciting petitions to participate in WEB V, the case to set webcasting royalties paid to SoundExchange by noninteractive webcasters (including broadcasters who simulcast their programming on the

Update – January 24, 2019 – the notice seeking petitions to participate has been published in the Federal Register, setting a filing deadline of February 4, 2019.  See our article here for more details.

In our summary of January regulatory issues for broadcasters, we suggested that the Copyright Royalty Board this month might start

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board announced its calculations for whether there would be a cost of living increase in the 2019 rates that Internet radio stations pay to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings. In its initial release on the subject, the CRB’s announcement indicated that commercial webcasters would continue to pay at the rate of $.0018 per performance (set after a cost of living increase last year – see our post here). But that same notice indicated that the per performance rate would be $.0019 for noncommercial webcasters with substantial listening (i.e., those that stream more than the 159,140 aggregate monthly tuning hours that noncommercial webcasters receive for a $500 yearly payment), causing some concern among noncommercial webcasters as their per performance rates were supposed to be based on what commercial webcasters paid. That notice was revealed to be a typo according to a Federal Register correction published today – keeping the noncommercial rates at $.0018 once the noncommercial webcaster exceeds the initial complement of streaming hours it gets for the $500 yearly minimum payment (see our initial article on that decision here, and one that provided more details here).

While the rates stay the same for 2019, and will stay substantially the same for 2020 (subject only to a cost of living increase, if any), 2019 will begin the CRB proceeding for the setting of webcaster’s SoundExchange royalty rates for 2021-2026. The CRB sets rates in 5 year increments. But the proceedings to set those rates normally take two years to complete, so the proceeding to set the rates to be effective in 2021 will begin with interested parties filing petitions to participate in the proceeding following a CRB invitation to file, likely to be released at the beginning of 2019. Once parties have filed to participate, the CRB will announce a mandatory 90 day period in which the parties are to try to settle the case. If there is no settlement, the litigation will run through the remainder of 2019 and 2020, with a decision to be issued by the end of 2020.
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The US Court of Appeals today released a decision upholding the Copyright Royalty Board’s 2015 decision setting the SoundExchange royalty rates for 2016-2020. We wrote about that decision here, and provided more details here. In any appeal of an agency decision, the Court routinely affords the agency deference in reaching its decision. The Court will not overturn that decision unless it has no basis in the record developed on the matter before the agency, or unless the agency decision was arbitrary and capricious – in plain English, the agency did not reach a logical conclusion based on the facts before it. That means that the Courts will not overturn a decision just because the agency might have logically reached another decision – but instead it will only intervene where the agency came to a conclusion that could not be logically supported. In this case, no reason to overturn the CRB decision was found.

SoundExchange on appeal had attacked the CRB decision on several grounds – arguing that several defects led to an inappropriate decision as to the rates that would have been determined by a “willing buyer and willing seller” in a marketplace, the standard to be used by the CRB in setting rates. SoundExchange attacked the benchmarks that were relied on by the CRB to set the rates (the direct licensing deals on royalties arrived at between webcasters Pandora and iHeart Media and various record companies) arguing that these rates were too low as they were negotiated in the “shadow of the statutory license.” They argued that the only direct deals that could have been done were ones that were lower than the rates established by the CRB during the prior rate term, as no music service would agree to higher rates. Arguments were also raised that these rates relied on “steering” – the prospect that labels who agreed to the rates had songs played more frequently than those that did not agree to lower rates. SoundExchange argued that not all labels could take advantage of steering (as a label can only get the benefit of steering when a service is playing less of the music of labels that did not pay for steering). The appeals also challenged the determination that a qualified auditor to check royalty compliance had to be a CPA licensed in the state where the audit was conducted.
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In the last year, the popularity of Alexa, Google Home and similar “smart speaker” devices has led to discussions at almost every broadcast conference of how radio broadcasters should embrace the technology as the new way for listeners to access radio programming in their homes. Broadcasters are urged to adopt strategies to take advantage of the technology to keep listeners listening to their radio stations through these new devices. Obviously, broadcasters want their content where the listeners are, and they have to take advantage of new platforms like the smart speaker. But in doing so, they also need to be cognizant that the technology imposes new costs on their operations – in particular increased fees payable to SoundExchange.

Never mentioned at these broadcast conferences that urge broadcasters to take advantage of these smart speakers is the fact that these speakers, when asked to play a radio station, end up playing that station’s stream, not its over-the-air signal. For the most part, these devices are not equipped with FM chips or any other technology to receive over-the-air signals. So, when you ask Alexa or Google to play your station, you are calling up a digital stream, and each digital stream gives rise to the same royalties to SoundExchange that a station pays for its webcast stream on its app or through a platform like TuneIn or the iHeartRadio. For 2018, those royalties are $.0018 per song per listener (see our article here). In other words, for each song you play, you pay SoundExchange about one-fifth of a cent for each listener who hears it. These royalties are in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and, for most commercial stations, GMR.
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The Copyright Royalty Board yesterday announced in the Federal Register, here, that the sound recording royalty rates paid to SoundExchange will be increasing next year.  In December 2015, when the CRB set the current royalty rates that apply from January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2020 (see our articles here and here),

Last week, I participated in a discussion about music royalties for broadcasters at the Texas Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention in Austin. Speaking on the panel with me were the heads of the Radio Music License Committee and the TV Music Licensing Committee. These are the organizations that represent most commercial broadcasters in their negotiations with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for public performance licenses for “musical works” or “musical compositions” – the underlying words and music to any song. In our discussion, there was a general summary of the licenses needed for the use of music by broadcasters, a summary of the status of some of the current royalty negotiations, and questions about other issues in music licensing. As this discussion raised a number of issues that I have covered in articles posted on this blog, I thought that it might be worth highlighting some of that past coverage so that those interested in any topic can read a bit more on these subjects.

The TV industry seems to have far fewer issues than radio, perhaps because radio is so much more music-dependent. While there is music in many TV programs, some of it is cleared (i.e. licenses have been negotiated) by the program providers (including some networks), so that stations need only worry about licenses for programming where the music has not been pre-cleared. Thus, TV stations have alternatives of blanket licenses for all programming (principally used by affiliates of networks where music has not been pre-cleared) or per-program fees where stations pay for music only in programs or program segments where music has not been licensed by the program suppliers.
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SoundExchange last week filed an appeal of the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision on webcasting royalties (a decision which we summarized here and here), as reported by a number of trade press articles. Most of these press reports did not note that this was not the only appeal filed. At least two other parties, IBS (Intercollegiate Broadcasting System – representing college and high school broadcasters) and the NRB-NMLC (National Religious Broadcasters Noncommercial Music License Committee – representing noncommercial religious broadcasters) also filed notices of appeal. So what is next now that these appeals have been filed?

The Notices of Appeal that were just submitted to the US Court of Appeals are just “notice” documents – filed to give notice to the other parties, the CRB and the court that these parties will pursue an appeal as they think that the CRB decision was not justified. No detail as to the substance of the appeal need be submitted at this time. Those details will be advanced when the parties file briefs setting out the specifics of their arguments challenging the CRB decision. The exact date for the submission of those briefs won’t be set for months, when the case makes its way onto the Courts docketing schedule. So don’t expect briefs to be filed until the Fall, with an oral argument before the Court to follow. The arguments are simply ones where lawyers for the parties get up before a three-judge panel and make brief presentations about the legal issues involved in the case (and answer the questions of the Judges). No new evidence is taken – at this point the proceeding is just one between lawyers, arguing as to whether the CRB decision was justified. What does the Court review?
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The full decision of the Copyright Royalty Board on Internet Radio royalties, excluding confidential information, has now been made public and is available here.  In December, we wrote about the rates and terms of the royalties that webcasters pay to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings as set by the CRB

This week, several notices of the intent to audit the records of several webcasters and other digital music services were published in the Federal Register, indicating that SoundExchange was planning on having the royalty payment records of these services reviewed.  Notices were sent to services including Live365, iHeartMedia and CBS).  Those notices have prompted several calls asking what this is all about.  We have written before about these audits (see our article here).  It is a somewhat routine process, where each year SoundExchange picks several webcasters whose records it will have reviewed.  Under the rules adopted by the Copyright Royalty Board, SoundExchange can elect to audit a webcaster (or other digital music service – and some of the notices this week were for services that were not webcasters – one to a background music provider or what is referred to as a “business establishment service”, here).  SoundExchange can, and usually does, elect to review three years of records.  They can only review any service once for the same time period, so effectively a service can be audited only once every three years.

Under the rules, an independent CPA is to do the audit.  Once the audit is complete, it must be provided to the music service for comment.  Then, it is up to SoundExchange and the service to work out what to do if there are discrepancies identified by the audit with which the service does not agree.  The rules do not provide for any independent adjudicator to referee what happens if there is a disagreement.  SoundExchange pays for the audit, unless the audit determines that the service underpaid by 10% or more, in which case the costs can be transferred to the service.
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