The FCC has released its Order setting the amounts of the annual regulatory fees for broadcasters – though the window for making those payments has not yet been set.  Look for that window to be set in the near future, as payments will probably be due in September.  Broadcast fees are based on the class of facility and the population covered by the station.  All fees are based on the status of the station as of October 1 of 2008.  Click on "continue reading" below to see the amount of the fees to be paid by broadcasters. 

In its order, the FCC declined a request to broaden the categories of broadcast stations that were suffering from financial hardship justifying a waiver of the rules.  Stations seeking a financial hardship waiver must provide the FCC with sufficient financial information, including profit and loss statements and a showing of how much the station’s owners were receiving as compensation, for the Commission to make a determination that the payment of the fees would pose an undue hardship on the station.  The FCC did say that bankruptcy or receivership, or the fact that a station was silent or dark, would be viewed as evidence of financial hardship. 


Continue Reading FCC Announces Annual Regulatory Fees – Payment Deadlines Not Yet Set

In a recent article in Silicon Valley Insider, TargetSpot’s CEO, Doug Perlson, suggests that the financial savior of Internet Radio might be payola – taking money from record companies or artists to play their songs.  Putting aside any issues of the financial benefits of such a plan, and the creative and aesthetic issues that pay for play may raise, and since this is a blog written by lawyers, we’ll deal with the legal implications.  And as lawyers, we’re forced to play the spoilsport.  As set forth below, such a scheme can be done legally (just as it could be on terrestrial radio with the proper disclosures).  But, while there has been no legal enforcement of such activities, careful Internet radio operators would best be advised to be careful about just taking the money and playing songs, but instead should make some disclosure of the nature of the service that they are providing.

The payola statute, 47 USC Section 508, applies to radio stations and their employees, so by its terms it does not apply to Internet radio (at least to the extent that Internet Radio is not transmitted by radio waves – we’ll ignore questions of whether Internet radio transmitted by wi-fi, WiMax or cellular technology might be considered a "radio" service for purposes of this statute).  But that does not end the inquiry.  Note that neither the prosecutions brought by Eliot Spitzer in New York state a few years ago nor the prosecution of legendary disc jockey Alan Fried in the 1950s were brought under the payola statute.  Instead, both were based on state law commercial bribery statutes on the theory that improper payments were being received for a commercial advantage.  Such statutes are in no way limited to radio, but can apply to any business.  Thus, Internet radio stations would need to be concerned.


Continue Reading Payola on Internet Radio – Legal?

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the possibility of imposing on broadcasters a performance royalty for the use of sound recordings.  This would be a new royalty, paying for the public performance of the recording of a song by a particular artist – a fee that would be on top of the fees that broadcasters already pay to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of the underlying compositions.  Unlike the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Hearing, about which we wrote here, this hearing was a much more measured proceeding, weighing carefully the implications of imposing a new royalty – both as to whether it was really necessary to encourage creation of more music by performers, and as to whether radio stations could afford to pay such a royalty.  In fact, in closing the hearing, Senators asked the representatives of the Broadcasters and of the musicians to provide the committee more information on these two issues.

The Music First Coalition seeking the new royalty was represented by two recording artists, Lyle Lovett and Alice Peacock.  Committee members were clearly excited to have Mr. Lovett testifying, thanking him repeatedly for taking time out from his touring schedule (he had played a concert the night before in suburban Washington, at the Birchmere Club in Alexandria that Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Committee, said was attended and enjoyed by some of his staffers), and the committee was even treated to a few bars of Ms. Peacock’s song "Bliss."  But between the performances and the star treatment, committee members did ask hard questions – including whether a royalty was really needed.  Both artist stated that music was their passion, that they would be performers no matter how much they were paid.  If passion drove the creation of music, asked one Senator, as the purpose of copyright is to encourage the creation of artistic works, why is a new royalty on broadcasters even necessary? 


Continue Reading Performance Royalty (or Tax) on Broadcasters – Promotion, Fairness and The Impact on the Small Guy

Should artists waive their rights to performance royalties in order to get airplay on broadcast or Internet radio stations? That questions has come to the fore based on a click-through agreement that Clear Channel included on a website set up to allow independent bands to upload their music for consideration for airplay by its stations. While artist groups, including the Future of Music Coalition, condemned that action, there are always two sides to the story, as was made clear in a segment broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition, in which I offered some comments. As set forth in that segment, artists may be perfectly willing to allow unrestricted use of a song or two in order to secure the promotional value that may result from the airplay that might be received. For the broadcaster or Internet site seeking such permission, getting all rights upfront may well be an important consideration in deciding whether or not to feature a song – especially in the digital media.

Critics of the waiver made much of the fact that the site was set up at least partially to meet Clear Channel’s informal commitment made as part of the FCC payola settlement to feature more independent music, even though that commitment was not a formal part of the settlement agreement.  (See our summary of the payola settlement, here).  Even to the extent that the informal commitments made by the big broadcasters encompassed making time available to more independent musicians, the critics ignore the fact that the companies do not need any waiver of any sound recording performance royalty in connection with the over-the-air broadcast of those songs, as there currently is no public performance right in a sound recording for over the air broadcasting (though artists and record lables are now pushing for such a royalty, see our story here). Thus, the use of the waiver was only for the digital world – which was not covered by the FCC’s jurisdiction over payola promises or the promises to increase the use of independent music. So, effectively, the company is being chastised for trying to minimize their costs on giving the music even greater circulation through their digital platforms than they initially promised.


Continue Reading Musicians Trade Waiver of Royalty Rights in Exchange for Exposure – Maybe Not Such a Bad Idea