webcaster settlement act

A new month in a new year, and a number of new regulatory dates are upon us for broadcasters – and important dates for webcasters also fall in this month.  So now that the holidays are quickly becoming just a foggy memory, it is time to sharply focus on those regulatory obligations that you have to avoid legal issues as the year moves forward.  January 10 brings one deadline for all broadcast stations – it is a date by which your Quarterly Issues Programs lists, setting out the most important issues that faced your community in the last quarter of 2013 and the programs that you broadcast to address those issues, need to be placed in the physical public inspection file of radio stations, and the online public file of TV broadcasters.

Full power TV and Class A TV stations by January 10 also need to have filed with the FCC their FCC Form 398 Children’s Television Reports, addressing the educational and informational programming directed to children that they broadcast.  Also, by that same date, they need to upload to their online public files records showing compliance with the limits on commercials during programming directed to children.
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There have been many reports about the attempts by Sirius XM Radio to license music directly from record labels, bypassing any royalty rates set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  Direct licensing would have Sirius pay the record labels or copyright holders for the rights to use music, avoiding any dealings with SoundExchange, which normally collects the royalties for the public performance of sound recordings under the statutory license.  The most recent report about Sirius’ efforts was in the New York Times, here.  Sirius, like webcasters, pays royalties set by the CRB (if they cannot be negotiated among the parties) that cover the public performance of all legally released sound recordings.  While webcasters currently have royalties that are in place through 2015, the royalties for Sirius end in 2012, and are being litigated now (see our story here on the last royalties set by the CRB for Sirius).  To avoid the uncertainty of litigation, with which webcasters are very familiar, Sirius has been attempting to license music directly from the copyright holders.  This is not a new story – Rhapsody reportedly tried the same thing earlier this year, and Clear Channel tried to get royalty waivers from independent artists several years ago in exchange for more exposure for their music (see our stories, here and here).  Each time a music service suggests that it might want to license music directly to try to recognize some savings over the rates established through CRB litigation, the music community objects – see, for instance, the statements of unions AFTRA and AFM here, that of SoundExchange here, and that of A2IM (the association of independent record labels), here.  But what is really wrong with the efforts of services to negotiate lower royalties?  If you believe the testimony of SoundExchange’s own witness in the Copyright Royalty Board proceedings – nothing at all.  In fact it is to be expected. 

In the CRB proceeding that was held in 2005-2006 (and from which, most of the settlements arose that now govern the royalties for sound recordings played by Internet radio stations), SoundExchange relied on a number of witnesses, including one expert, Michael Pelcovits, an economist whose model was the principal testimony relied on by the CRB in establishing the rates they determined to be reasonable.  In his written testimony, Mr. Pelcovits stated as follows:

…a rate that is set too low may have serious economic dangers.  By setting a rate too low, inefficient entry may be encouraged, and inefficient levels of production will be encouraged, which can hinder the development of an efficient market.  It is also worth noting that setting the statutory rate too high will not necessarily be harmful to the market.  If the price is too high, parties can (and are almost certain to) negotiate agreements for rates lower than the statutory standard.  Thus, a rate that is set too high is likely to "self-adjust" because of the sellers’ natural incentive to meet the market. 

(Emphasis added).  The statutory rate referred to in this quote is the rate that is set by the CRB.  What this quote says is that, if that rate is set too high, then parties will naturally negotiate after-the-fact to try to find what the real market rate should be, and that such negotiations should be expected – not feared as many seem to be claiming as these attempts to cut deals come to light.  In other words, the music community seemed to favor (and expect) such negotiations, before they were against them it in their statements today. 


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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 Royalty Board today released its Determination of Rates for noninteractive webcasting services for the period from 2011-2015. These rates will form the default rates for webcasters who have not opted into one of the many voluntary agreements negotiated last year under the Webcaster Settlement Act (see our summaries of the Pureplay webcaster deal here, the Broadcasters settlement here, the Small Webcasters or "microcaster" settlement here, the noncommercial webcasters settlements here, the Sirius XM settlement here, and the CPB/NPR settlement here).  The Board set the following per performance royalty rates as the default rates for webcasters who are not terrestrial broadcasters:

  • 2011 – $.0019 per performance
  • 2012 – $.0021 per performance
  • 2013 – $.0021 per performance
  • 2014 – $.0023 per performance
  • 2015 – $.0023 per performance

Thus, the rates for this coming year will remain at the same level at which they are now set for 2010, and will increase slightly every other  year.  A performance is one song played to one listener. 

The decision also adopted default rates for noncommercial webcasters, setting those rates at the levels agreed to in a settlement between SoundExchange and certain noncommercial educational webcasters reached last year. Those rates establish a minimum fee of $500 for each individual channel offered by a noncommercial webcaster. If the listening on any channel exceeds 159,140 Aggregate Tuning Hours in any month, the webcaster would pay for such overage on a per performance basis at the following rates:

  • 2011 – $.0017 per performance 
  • 2012 – $.0020 per performance
  • 2013 – $.0022 per performance
  • 2014 – $.0023 per performance
  • 2015 – $.0025 per performance


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The four settlement agreements between SoundExchange and different groups of webcasters were published in the Federal Register today, setting the dates by which Internet radio operators need to opt into the terms of certain of these deals by filing a Notice of Election with SoundExchange.  The deals each have different opt in dates, so it

SoundExchange has posted on its website this afternoon four press releases announcing new settlements of amounts due for Internet radio music royalties.  These settlements were negotiated under the provisions of the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009.  The announcement lists settlements with two noncommercial groups representing College Broadcasters and noncommercial religious broadcasters, as well as a deal with Sirius XM for their streaming of music.  The fourth deal is with a group to be named later – a little mystery that sounds like something out of a trade of baseball players done right at the trading deadline.  In effect, that is the case here, as yesterday was the final date for deals to be done under the terms of the WSA.  These deals join the Pureplay Webcasters settlement announced earlier this month, as well as the deals with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for NPR affiliates, the NAB for commercial broadcasters, and with microcasters done in February under the terms of the Webcasters Settlement Act of 2008 (links to our description of these deals can be found here).

The press releases do not release detailed terms. For Sirius, the release states that the parties agreed to a per performance rate which is not specified, covering webcasting royalties through 2015.  These rates do not apply to Sirius performances that are done by satellite, which are covered by the Copyright Royalty Board rates recently upheld by the US Court of Appeals.  Instead, these rates only cover the streaming of Sirius programming done over the Internet or to mobile devices using Internet technology.  The Collegiate Broadcasters agreed to a rate that provided the flat $500 fee for the first 159,140 aggregate tuning hours a month set by the CRB decision, and then per performance fees at the NAB rates for all streaming above that amount.  The religious broadcasters deal is less defined, discussing a per performance rate, but not providing any more details of the agreement.  For both noncommercial groups, there are references to reduced recordkeeping requirements for some webcasters, but again, those have not yet been detailed.


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The Pureplay Webcasters settlement agreement, which we summarized here, was published in the Federal Register on Friday, starting the 30 day clock running for the election of the deal by existing webcasters.  While this deal offers better per performance rates to large webcasters than offered by the rates established by the Copyright Royalty Board, and higher permissible listening levels to Small Commercial Pureplay webcasters than allowed under the Microcaster deal, this option still is not for everyone.  For larger webcasters, there is a minimum fee of 25% of total revenue, so companies with multiple lines of business will not want to opt into the deal.  For smaller webcasters, the fees are higher than under the Microcaster deal, including a $25,000 minimum yearly fee, and there are per performance rates that are charged when the webcaster offers services that are "syndicated," i.e. played through a website other than that of the webcaster itself.  So electing this deal is right only for larger "small pureplay" webcasters who have revenues over $250,000 (where they will be paying royalties in excess of the $25,000 minimum fee under any deal) and those entities nearing the audience caps of the Microcaster deal.  Nevertheless, for those webcasters who fit within the constraints of the deal, it offers benefits over the other existing options.  The opt-in date set by the deal is August 17, 2009.  The forms to opt into the the Small Pureplay webcasters agreement are here.  The forms for larger Pureplay webcasters are here

Note that this is just one of many options available to webcasters, each tailored to webcasters of specific types.  Noncommercial webcasters associated with NPR or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have their own deal, where essentially CPB pays the royalties.  See our description of this deal, hereStreaming done by broadcasters, who would not want to take the "pureplay" deal as their broadcast revenues would be subject to the royalties, have their own settlement agreement, which we described here and here, setting out per performance rates different than those arrived at by the CRB.  Small commercial webcasters can elect the "Microcaster" deal, which we described here.  And for those entities that don’t fit under any of these categories, they will have to pay the CRB rates, which we described here and here.  The Radio and Internet Newsletter recently ran a good, basic summary of these alternatives, here.  Note that there still is another two week period where, under the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009, agreements can be reached with SoundExchange by other webcaster groups to potentially pay rates that are different from any of those agreed to so far.


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A settlement under the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 was signed today by SoundExchange and a group of webcasters that I represented in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding to determine the royalty rates for the use of sound recordings by Internet Radio stations for the period from 2006-2010. This agreement is for “pureplay” webcasters, i.e. those that are willing to include their entire gross revenue in a percentage of revenue calculation to determine their royalties. As permitted under the terms of the WSA, this agreement not only reaches back to set rates different, and substantially lower, than those that were arrived at by the CRB for the period from 2006-2010, but also resolves the rates for 2011-2015, relieving webcasters who join the deal from having to litigate another CRB proceeding to set the rates for those years. 

While no deal arrived at under the circumstances in which these webcasters found themselves (a CRB decision that did not set any percentage of revenue royalty rate and would seemingly put these webcasters out of business, the prospect of a new CRB proceeding that would costs significant sums to litigate with no guarantee of success, and with the only other current option being the “microcasters” deal unilaterally advanced by SoundExchange that severely limited the amount of streaming that a webcaster could do and imposed significant “recapture provisions” in the event of a sale of the webcaster’s business) may not be ideal, the settlement does provide significant benefits over any other existing option for any webcaster who qualifies under its provisions. These deal points are set out below.


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The US Senate yesterday passed the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009, following House passage 10 days ago.  Once the Act receives the signature of President Obama, the law will go into effect, and give webcasting groups and the recording industry 30 days to reach a settlement (or settlements) on Internet radio music royalties for the

With all the recent discussion of the NAB-SoundExchange settlement (see our post here) and the recent Court of Appeals argument on Copyright Royalty Board decision on Internet Radio royalties, we have not summarized the "settlement" that SoundExchange agreed to with a few very small webcasters.  That agreement would essentially extend through 2015 the terms that SoundExchange unilaterally offered to small webcasters in 2007, and make these terms a "statutory" rate that would be binding on all copyright holders.  The deal comes with caveats – that an entity accepting the offer would be prevented from continuing in any appeal of the 2006-2010 royalties and from assisting anyone who is challenging the rates in the CRB proceeding for rates for 2011-2015, even if the webcaster grows out of the rates and terms that SoundExchange proposes.  Once it signs the deal, it cannot have any role before the court or CRB in trying to shape the rates that his or her company would be subject to once they are no longer a small webcaster until after 2015.  Even with these caveats, the deal does provide the very small webcaster the right to pay royalties based on a percentage of their revenue, and even provides some recordkeeping relief to "microcasters", the smallest of the small webcasters.  Parties currently streaming and interested in taking this deal must elect it by April 30 by submitting to SoundExchange forms available on its website for "small webcasters" (here) and "microcasters" (here).

The Small Commercial Webcasters that I represented in the Copyright Royalty Board proceeding did not negotiate this deal.  In fact, no party who participated in the CRB case signed the "settlement", yet it has become a deal available to the industry under the terms of the Webcaster Settlement Act as SoundExchange and some webcasters agreed to it.  My clients have been arguing for a rate that allows their businesses to grow beyond the limits of $1.25 million in revenue and 5 million monthly aggregate tuning hours set forth in this agreement.  But for very small webcasters not interested or able to participate in regulatory efforts to change the rules, and who do not expect their businesses to grow significantly between now and 2015, this deal may provide some opportunities.  The webcaster pays 10% of all revenues that it receives up to $250,000, and 12% of revenues above that threshold up to $1.25 million.  If it exceeds the $1.25 million revenue threshold, it can continue to pay at the percentage of revenue rates for 6 months, and then it would transition to paying full per performance royalty rates as set out by the CRB.   A service would also have to pay for all streaming in excess of 5 million monthly ATH at full CRB rates.  Microcasters, defined as those who make less than $5000 annually and stream less than 18,067 ATH per year (essentially an audience averaging just over 2 concurrent listeners, 24 hours a day 7 days a week), need pay only $500 a year and, for an additional $100 a year, they can be exempted from all recordkeeping requirements.


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