This week, the Copyright Royalty Board issued an Order denying a request by SoundExchange for rehearing of certain aspects of the decision released last month setting the royalties for satellite radio – XM and Sirius.  These are the royalties for the use of sound recordings by these services on their digital systems.  The decision, which set royalties at 6 to 8% of revenues of these services, and the denial of the rehearing motion, provide examples of how the CRB applies the 801(b) standard of the Copyright Act.  In setting royalties, that standard assesses not only the economic value of the sound recording, but also the public interest in the wide dissemination of the copyrighted material and the impact of the royalty on the service using the music.  The satellite radio decision sets a royalty far lower than that assessed on Internet radio – where the royalty is set using a "willing buyer, willing seller" standard looking only at the perceived economic value of the sound recording.  That willing buyer, willing seller standard is also proposed for broadcast radio in the recently introduced performance royalty bills now pending before Congress (see our summary here) – so it could be expected that any royalty set using that standard would be higher than that set for satellite radio. 

The initial Copyright Royalty Board decision, the full text of which is available here, first made a determination of how to compute the royalty.  While both the satellite radio companies and SoundExchange initially suggested a percentage of revenue royalty given that satellite radio can’t count specific listeners, the parties later amended their proposals (after the Internet radio decision) to include a computation based on the frequency of a song’s play, to try to more closely approximate the Internet radio performance-based model (about which we wrote here).  In addition to the suggestion that this metric more closely approximated that used in the Internet radio decision, the satellite radio companies suggested that a metric based on the songs played would give them the opportunity to adjust their use of music to reduce their royalty obligation.  The satellite companies suggested that, if the royalty was too high, they could reduce the number of different songs that they played.  While not specifically referenced in the decision, it is possible that they also considered the possibility of getting waivers from artists to encourage playing particular songs, which could further reduce a royalty based on a per song computation.  The Board declined to provide that option, finding that the percentage of revenue option best took into account the business of the companies.  The Board also suggested that it doubted that satellite radio really had the ability to lessen the use of music in reaction to a high royalty rate.  (The Board does not discuss the possibility of royalty waivers, which are essentially worth nothing in a situation where the royalties are based on a percentage of a service’s entire revenue). 


Continue Reading Satellite Radio Music Royalty Reconsideration Denied By Copyright Royalty Board – What a Difference A Standard Makes

With a possible decision looming on December 18 on the Chairman’s proposal to loosen the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules (see our summary here and here), the FCC this week granted two applications involving the sales of the Tribune Company and of the Clear Channel television stations, where the decisions focused on the application of the multiple ownership rules – and where the Commission granted multiple waivers of various aspects of those rules – some on a permanent basis and many only temporarily.  And, in the process, both of the Commission’s Democratic Commissioners complained about the apparent prejudgment of the cross-ownership rules and one complained about the role of private equity in broadcast ownership.  Both decisions are also interesting in their treatment of complicated ownership structures and, at least under this administration, evidence the Commission’s desire to stay out of second guessing these structures. 

In the Clear Channel decision, the Commission reviewed the proposed ownership of the new licensee by an affiliate of Providence Equity Partners.  As there were no objections to the proposed sale, the FCC approval process was somewhat easier than it might have been – though the Commission did seem to be somewhat troubled by the fact that Providence was already a shareholder with an interest attributable under the multiple ownership rules in Univision Communications, which had stations in a number of markets in which the Clear Channel television stations operate.  The Commission approved the sale, giving Providence 6 months to come into compliance with the ownership rules – and conditioning the initial closing of the Clear Channel sale on Providence meeting divestiture requirements that it had promised to observe in connection with the Univision acquisition, and had not yet complied with (in fact the Commission recently asked for comments on a proposal by Providence to come into compliance in the Univision case by simply converting their interest in Freedom Communications, which has interests in Univision markets, into a nonvoting interest which would not be attributable under Commission rules)


Continue Reading Ownership Waivers All Around – FCC Approves Sales of Tribune and Clear Channel TV

As reported in Digital Music News and other publications on Friday, Clear Channel Communications dropped its waiver of music royalties from its on-line agreement signed by musicians submitting songs to the Company in hopes that their music would be played on the Company’s radio stations.  In writing about this decision, most publications attribute the decision to the petition filed with the FCC by the Future of Music Coalition and other public interest groups arguing that the waiver requests constituted a form of payola – the giving of something of value (the waiver of the right to receive a royalty) in exchange for the playing of music.  However, on close inspection, that would appear to be a misunderstanding of the royalty, as there would seem to be no royalty that would be affected by the waiver in connection with the playing of this music by radio stations, and therefore there would be no payola over which the FCC has any jurisdiction.

According to the Future of Music petition, Clear Channel’s promise to play new music was made in connection with the payola settlement that it and other companies entered into with the FCC, and was apparently contained in a side letter filed with the FCC, as it was not spelled out in the settlement agreements themselves. See our analysis of the settlement agreements, here.  The side letter promised that the Company would dedicate a certain amount of radio airplay on the Company’s radio stations to new local music.  However, such play would not implicate any music royalties – so a waiver of royalties would not confer any benefit on the Company.  Broadcast stations pay no royalty for the use of a sound recording – thus the waiver that Clear Channel requested was without any value as there was no royalty to waive.  While broadcast stations do pay a royalty for the composition (the underlying words and music of a song), stations play flat fees to ASCAP and BMI that are a function of the station’s market size and power – not a function of how many songs are played.  Thus, as there is no sound recording royalty and a flat fee for the composition royalty unaffected by any waivers, the waiver did not confer any benefit to the Company in connection with its broadcast operations.  Thus, there where would appear to be no payola issue over which the FCC would have any jurisdiction.


Continue Reading Music Waivers Dropped Amid Payola Allegations – What’s the Impact for Future Waivers for Webcasters?

While the FCC continues its series of public hearings on possible revisions to its multiple ownership rules, the issue of newspaper-broadcast cross ownership is now squarely before the FCC in a number of proceedings. For instance, in the applications proposing a transfer of control of the Tribune Company, waiver requests have been filed in the markets where the company owns both newspaper and broadcast properties.  These markets include some of the largest television markets in the country including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.  As the current rules prohibit the ownership of a daily paper and either a radio or television station in the same market, Chicago, where Tribune owns radio, TV and newspaper properties and has done so for many years, asks for waivers for both stations.  The FCC just designated the application for transfer of control of the Tribune Company as a permit but disclose proceeding, meaning that parties can talk to the FCC decision makers about the case, as long as they file a written disclosure statement with the FCC for inclusion in the record of the case.

 Also, press reports note that the petitions to deny have been filed against applications for the renewal of Fox’s television stations in New York, arguing that the combination of  Fox’s television stations in the market with the ownership of the New York Post is not in the public interest.

Seemingly, the proposed purchase of the Wall Street Journal by News Corporation, the owners of Fox,  if it were to ever come to fruition, would at least be reviewed by the FCC, as the Journal is published in New York, where Fox owns television stations.  However, FCC precedent established when Gannett purchased a Washington, DC TV station, in the same market where USA Today is published, would seem to set a precedent for the treatment of a specialized national newspaper like the Journal. While published in New York, the Journal really is national in scope – and not focused on local news, sports, entertainment or advertisers in the same manner that a local newspaper would be. 


Continue Reading Debate Over Newspaper-Broadcast Cross Ownership Rule Heats Up