In the last month, there have been two bills introduced in the US House of Representatives seeking to impose a performance royalty for sound recordings on broadcast radio stations in the US. The bill introduced yesterday, The PROMOTE Act (standing for the Performance Royalty Owners of Music Opportunity to Earn Act – whatever that may mean, can be found here), seems to have garnered more attention, perhaps as it was promoted by its principal sponsor, California Congressman Darrell Issa, as giving performing artists the right to decide whether or not their music is played by radio stations. In fact, it does not do that, instead merely setting up a royalty system similar to that in place for Internet radio operators, allowing broadcasters to play music only if they pay royalties on “identical” rates and terms as do webcasters.

The PROMOTE Act proposes to add to the Copyright Act’s Section 106 enumeration of the “exclusive rights” given to copyright holders a provision stating that sound recording copyright holders (for most popular releases, that is usually the record company) have the exclusive right to authorize the performance of recorded songs by broadcast radio stations. That is in addition to the existing right to authorize the playing of these songs by digital audio transmissions (e.g. webcasters, satellite radio and digital cable services). But, like with the right to play music by digital services, that right to prohibit the playing of recorded songs is not absolute. Instead, like for the digital services, through a proposed amendment to Section 114 of the Copyright Act, broadcasters will have the right to play the songs if they pay a royalty set by the proposed legislation at “rates and terms” “identical” to those paid by webcasters. Let’s look at these issues more closely.
Continue Reading New Congressional Attempts to Impose a Performance Royalty for Sound Recordings on Broadcast Radio, Including the PROMOTE Act – What Do They Provide?

Deciding how to pay music royalties has always been difficult – trying to figure out what permissions are necessary, who has the rights to grant such permission, and how much the rights will cost. The one place where the rights were fairly simple – paying for the right to publicly perform musical compositions – may be getting more difficult. According to an article in the New York Post, Pandora may be getting a taste of that new reality, having to pay significantly more money to Sony ATV music publishers than it had previously paid for that same music when it was licensed by ASCAP and BMI

The rights to publicly perform musical compositions had until very recently been relatively straightforward. All a broadcaster, digital media company or other music user needed to do was to pay ASCAP, BMI and SESAC royalties (ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are often referred to as the PROs, or Performing Rights Organizations) – and the music service essentially had the rights to publicly perform virtually all the musical compositions in the world. And ASCAP and BMI were covered by antitrust decrees – so their rates were more or less known for most categories of music use – only subject to a rate court hearing once every now and then when these collection societies could not come to an agreement with the members of a particular class of music users. While SESAC is not subject to the antitrust consent decrees, and not necessarily as easy to deal with, most music services figured out a way to cut a deal with the society too.


Continue Reading Pandora Enters Settlement to Pay For Public Performance of Sony/ATV Musical Works – What’s Its Impact on Licensing for Music Services and Rights Holders?

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 question of when a digital music service is “interactive” and therefore requires direct negotiations with a copyright holder in order to secure permission to use a sound recording is a difficult one that has been debated since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was adopted in 1998. In a decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals released today, upholding a jury decision in 2007, the Court concluded that Yahoo’s Launchcast service (now operated by CBS) is not so “interactive” as to take it outside of the statutory royalty despite the fact that the service does customize its music offerings to the tastes of individual listeners. To reach its decision, the Court went through an extensive analysis of both the history of the sound recording copyright and of the details of the criteria used by Launchcast to select music for a stream sent to a specific user. By determining that the service is not interactive, the service need only pay the SoundExchange statutory royalty to secure permission to use all legally recorded and publicly released music.  Had the service been found to be interactive within the meaning of the statute, the service would have to negotiate with each sound recording copyright holder for each and every song that it wanted to use on its service to get specific rights to use each song – potentially resulting in hundreds of negotiations and undoubtedly higher fees than those paid under the statutory license.

The issue in the case turned on an analysis of the DMCA’s definition of an interactive service.  The statute defines an interactive service as one where a user can select a specific song or “receive a transmission of a program specially created for the recipient.” It is clear that Launchcast did not allow a user to request and hear a specific song.  But, by specifying a genre of music, and by specifying favorite artists and songs and rating other songs played by the service, a listener could influence the music that was provided to it.  Was this ability to influence the music sufficient to make it an “interactive service” and thus take it out of the coverage of the statutory royalty?


Continue Reading Court of Appeals Determines that Launchcast is Not an Interactive Service – Thus Not Needing Direct Licenses From the Record Labels

 Just when you think that the year will come to a quiet end, something always seems to pop up.  Today, the Copyright Royalty Board announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would change the reporting requirements for services that pay royalties for the use of sound recordings to SoundExchange.  The proposed new rules would require that Reports of Use submitted by services relying on the statutory royalty contain "full census reporting" of all songs played by any service.  Services would include all users of music who pay royalties due under Sections 112 or 114 of the Copyright Act – including Internet Radio, satellite radio, digital cable radio, digitally transmitted business establishment services, and radio-like services delivered by other digital means, including deliveries to cell phones. This reporting requirement would replace the current system, about which we wrote here, that only requires reporting for two weeks each quarter.  Under the new rules, an Internet radio service would have to submit the name of every song that they play to SoundExchange, along with information as to how many times that song played, the name of the featured artist, and either the recording’s ISRC code or both the album title and label.  Comments on this proposal are due by January 29.

Currently, the quarterly reports are filed electronically using an ASCII format and using either an Excel or Quattro Pro spreadsheet template as created by SoundExchange.  The Board asks for comments as to whether there are technological impediments to providing this information in this manner, and if other changes should be made to more easily facilitate the delivery of this information.  The Copyright Royalty Judges who make up the CRB expressed their opinion that the full census reporting is preferable to the limited information now provided, so that SoundExchange does not need to rely on estimates or projections to insure that all artists are fairly compensated when their works are played.  Using census reporting, all artists can be paid based on how often their songs are actually played.


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Proposes Full “Census” Reporting for Services Paying Royalties to SoundExchange

We’ve previously written about the value of music in connection with the royalties to be paid by Internet Radio and the performance royalty (or "performance tax" as it’s labeled by the NAB) proposed for broadcasters. One of the questions that has always been raised in any debate about royalties, and one often dismissed by the record industry, is to what extent is there a promotional value of having music played on the radio or streamed by a webcaster.  In discussions of the broadcast performance royalty, record company representatives have suggested that, whether or not there is promotional value of the broadcast of music, that should have no impact on whether the royalty is paid. Instead, argue the record companies, the creator of music deserves to be paid whether or not there is some promotional value. The analogy is often made to sports teams – that the teams get promotional value by having their games broadcast but are nevertheless paid by stations for the rights to such games. The argument is that music should be no different. That contention, that the artist deserves to be paid whether or not there is promotional value may be tested in connection with what was once thought to be an unlikely source of promotional value for music – the video game Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero, in its various versions released over the last few years, has proven to be a very effective tool for the promotion of music – with various classic rock bands experiencing significant sales growth whenever their songs are featured on a new version of the game. The use of a sound recording in a video game is not subject to any sort of statutory royalty – the game maker must receive a license negotiated with the copyright holder of the recording – usually the record company.  In previous editions of the game, Guitar Hero has paid for music rights. However, now that the game has proved its value in promoting the sale of music, the head of Activision, the company that owns the game, has suggested in a Wall Street Journal interview that it should be the record companies that are paying him to include the music in the game – and no doubt many artists would gladly do so for the promotional value they realize from the game. 


Continue Reading Will Guitar Hero Show the Promotional Value of Music and Change the Music Royalty Outlook?

The Copyright Office today issued an Order extending the dates for comments on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to determine if, in addition to royalties to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of a musical composition, a royalty is also be due for reproductions of the composition made by real-time webcasting such as