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.
Continue Reading Court of Appeals Upholds Copyright Royalty Board’s 2015 Webcasting Royalty Rate Decision

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today released its decision for the most part rejecting the appeals of webcasters of the 2007 decision of the Copyright Royalty Board setting Internet Radio royalty rates for the use of sound recordings.  The Court generally upheld the Board’s decision, finding that the issues raised by the appealing parties did not show that the decision was "arbitrary and capricious" – a high standard of judicial review that the Courts accord when reviewing supposedly "expert" administrative agency decisions.  On only one issue did the Court have concerns with the CRB’s decision – that being the question of the $500 per channel minimum fees that it had required that webcasters pay.  The Court found that per channel fee, which could result in astronomical fees for some webcasters regardless of their listenership, was not supported by the record evidence, and remanded that aspect of the case to the CRB for further consideration.

The Court surprised some observers by not reaching the constitutional issue of whether the Copyright Royalty Judges were properly appointed.  As we wrote before (see our posts here and here), issues were raised by appellant Royalty Logic, contending that these Judges should be appointed by the President, and not by the Librarian of Congress.  In the recent Court decision on the CRB rates for satellite radio, where the issue had not even been raised, one Judge nevertheless wrote that he questioned the constitutionality of the CRB.  The Court here decided not to decide the issue – finding that it had been raised too late by Royalty Logic, and raised too many fundamental issues (including whether the Register of Copyrights should herself be appointed by the President, potentially invalidating many copyrights) to be decided on the minimal briefing accorded it by the parties.


Continue Reading Court Rejects Webcaster Challenge to Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Internet Radio Royalties – And Does Not Rule on Constitutional Issue of CRB Appointment

In the last 5 days, the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC has held two oral arguments on appeals from decisions of the Copyright Royalty Board – one from the Board’s decision on Internet Radio Royalties and the other on the royalties applicable to satellite radio.  The decisions were different in that, in the Internet Radio decision, the appellants (including the group known as the "Small Commercial Webcasters" that I represented in the case) challenged the Board’s decision, arguing that the rates that were arrived at were too high.  In contrast, at the second argument, SoundExchange was the appellant, arguing that the Board’s decision set royalties for satellite radio  that were too low.  But, in both arguments, an overriding question was whether the Judges on the CRB were constitutionally appointed and thus whether any decisions of the Board had any validity.  While the question was expected and specifically raised in the webcasting proceeding (see our post here when that issue was first raised), the discussion at the satellite radio argument was somewhat of a surprise, as the issue had not been raised by either party, and the Appeals Court judges were not even the same judges who had heard the Internet radio argument.  Yet one of the Judges raised the issue, unprompted by any party, by asking if the Copyright Royalty Judges were properly appointed and indirectly asking if their decision would have any validity if the constitutional issue was found to exist.

Will the Court decide the constitutionality issue, and what would it mean?  No one knows for sure.  One of the issues raised by the Court in the Internet radio case was whether the issue had been raised in a timely fashion.  In both cases, the possibility of requiring additional briefing on the issue was also raised by the Court, though no such briefing has been ordered – yet.  Even if the Court was to find that the Board was not properly appointed, there are questions as to whether the existing decisions should nevertheless be allowed to stand, while blocking new decisions until a new appointment scheme is found.  Alternatively, Congress might have to intervene to resolve the whole issue and, if it was to do that, would Congress simply ratify the current decision, or would there be new considerations that would affect any Congressional resolution?  The issue raises many questions, and we’ll just have to wait to see what the resolution will be.


Continue Reading Two Court of Appeals Arguments on Sound Recording Music Royalty Rates – And the Real Question is Whether the Copyright Royalty Board is Constitutional

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and SoundExchange have reached an agreement on the Internet radio royalty rates applicable to stations funded by CPB.  While the actual agreement has not yet been made public, a summary has been released.  The deal will cover 450 public radio webcasters including CPB supported stations, NPR, NPR members, National Federation of Community Broadcasters members, American Public Media, the Public Radio Exchange, and Public Radio International stations.  All are covered by a flat fee payment of $1.85 million – apparently covering the full 5 years of the current royalty period, 2006-2010.  This deal is permitted as a result of the Webcaster Settlement Act (about which we wrote here), and will substitute for the rates decided by the Copyright Royalty Board back in 2007.

 The deal also requires that NPR drop its appeal of the CRB’s 2007 decision which is currently pending before the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC (see summary here and here), though that appeal will continue on issues raised by the other parties to the case unless they, too, reach a settlement.  CPB is also required to report to SoundExchange on the music used by its members.  In some reports, the deal is described as being based on "consumption" of music, and implies that, if music use by covered stations increases, then the royalties will increase.  It is not clear if this increase means that there will be an adjustment to the one time payment made by CPB, or if the increase will simply lead to adjustments in future royalty periods. 


Continue Reading SoundExchange and CPB Reach a Settlement on Webcasting Royalties – More Deals to Come?

We recently wrote about the challenge to appointment of the Copyright Royalty Board’s judges filed by Royalty Logic as part of the appeal of the Board’s decision on Internet Radio royalties.  Royalty Logic argued that the appointment of the Copyright Royalty Judges was improper, as the Librarian of Congress was not the "head of a department" who can appoint lesser government officials under the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.  Thus, Royalty Logic contends that the decision reached by the Board as to Internet radio royalties was a nullity, as the Board effectively does not legally exist.  Earlier this week, the Board and SoundExchange filed their replies to the Royalty Logic motion, arguing that, in fact, the Librarian is the head of a department, as he is appointed by the President and approved by Congress and runs a government "department," i.e. the Library of Congress, of which the Copyright Office is a part.  In demonstrating that the Library is a department, the briefs reach back to the creation of the Library by Thomas Jefferson, and look at the legislative history of legislation modifying the powers of the Library and the process for the appointment of the Librarian – legislation passed in 1870 and 1897.  Essentially, the very technical argument about why the Board was not properly constituted was met with an equally technical one that says it was properly formed.  Clearly, arguments only lawyers could love.

While Royalty Logic will have the opportunity to respond, the litigation process continues on the main portion of the appeal, as SoundExchange filed its intervenor’s brief the week before last, defending the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board.  In one notable departure, SoundExchange, while contending that the Board was correct in determining the minimum fees that would be required of webcasters, it said that, because of the agreement that it reached with certain webcasters that would cap minimum fees at $50,000  no matter how many channels a service might have (see our discussion of the agreement here), it asked that the Court remand that one limited matter back to the Board for adoption of the limitation on minimum fees so that it would apply to all webcasters and not just those who signed the agreement.  In all other respects, SoundExchange opposed the briefs of the webcasters.


Continue Reading Yes We Do Exist – Claims Copyright Royalty Board

A full year ago, the Copyright Royalty Board released its decision setting royalties for the use of sound recordings by Internet Radio webcasters (see various posts on the subject here).  As an article this week in the Boston Globe sets out, despite much talk of a post-decision settlement to lower the royalties set by the CRB that many Internet Radio operators claim will put their stations out of business, no such settlement has yet been announced.  And, in a week that brought about the transfer of the operations of one of the largest webcaster’s operations to a traditional radio company (as CBS took over operations of AOL’s Internet Radio service), appeals of the decision were filed with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.  A busy week, but still no resolution of the Internet radio controversy.

Four separate appeals briefs were submitted to the Court.  One was a combined brief of the large Webcasters (represented by DiMA, the Digital Media Association) and the Small Webcasters(Accuradio, Radioio, Digitally Imported Radio, Radio Paradise), another was submitted by several commercial broadcast groups (Bonneville, the NAB and the National Religious Broadcasters Association) and a third by several noncommercial groups (including college broadcasters, NPR, and noncommercial religious broadcasters).  A final brief was submitted by Royalty Logic, a company that wants to become an alternative to SoundExchange as the collection agent for performers.  These briefs will be answered by the Department of Justice (defending the CRB and its decision before the Court) and SoundExchange.  The briefing process will continue for several months, with an oral argument to follow, quite possibly not until the Fall.  Thus, a decision in the case may well not be reached until 2009. 


Continue Reading A Year After the Webcasting Royalty Decision – No Settlement, Appeal Briefs Filed

The US Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia has set the briefing dates on the appeal filed by various webcasting groups seeking review of the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board setting Internet radio royalties for the period 2006-2010 for the use of sound recordings (see our coverage of this controversy here, and

Last week brought more action, and not much in the way of  results, as we count down to the July 15 effective date of the new Internet Radio Royalties.  The actions that received the largest amount of press coverage were the hearing before the US House of Representatives Small Business Committee, and the offer by SoundExchange suggesting that the minimum $500 per channel fee be capped at $2500 per service. While both initially seemed to offer the prospect of some resolution of the dispute over the Internet Radio royalties that were adopted by the Copyright Royalty Board, in fact neither ultimately resulted in much.

The Committee hearing featured webcasters and musicians – equally divided between those who believed that the royalties were fairly decided, and those who believed that the rates were too high.  The one thing on which most of the witnesses seemed to agree was that some rate adjustment was warranted for small webcasters, though no one was able to quantify how such a settlement should be reached.  The Congressional representatives, on the other hand, were cautious to act, asking again and again whether the parties were going to be able to settle the case between themselves.  While Congressman Jay Inslee testified in favor of his Internet Radio Equality Act, the members of the committee seemed hesitant to act while there were judicial avenues of relief still pending, and the possibility of settlement.


Continue Reading Minimum Per Channel Fee Offer – Waiting for the Stay?

The past few days have been eventful ones in the battle over Internet radio royalties.  Appeals from the decision of the Copyright Royalty Board decision (see our memo explaining that decision, as well as our coverage of the history of this case) were submitted by virtually all of the parties to the case.  In addition, the National Association of Broadcasters, which had not previously been a party to the case, filed a request to intervene in the appeal to argue that the CRB decision adversely affects its members.  Also in Court, a Motion for Stay of the decision was submitted, asking that the CRB decision be held in abeyance while the appeal progresses.  The "appeals" that were filed last week are simply notices that parties dispute the legal basis for the decision, and that they are asking that the Court review that decision.  These filings don’t contain any substantive arguments.  Those come later, once the Court sets up a briefing schedule and a date for oral arguments – all of which will occur much later in the year.  As the CRB decision goes into effect on July 15, absent a Stay, the appeal would have no effect on the obligations to begin to pay royalties at the new rates.

The Stay was filed by the large webcasters represented by DiMA, the smaller independent webcasters that I have represented in this case, and NPR.  To be granted a stay, the Court must look at a number of factors.  These include the likelihood that the party seeking the stay will be successful on appeal, the fact that irreparable harm will occur if the stay is not granted, the harm that would be caused by the grant of a stay, and the public interest benefits that would be advanced by the stay.  The Motion filed last week addressed these points.  It raised a number of substantive issues including the minimum per channel fee  set by the CRB decision, the lack of a percentage of revenue fee for smaller webcasters, and issues about the ability of NPR stations to track the metrics necessary to comply with the CRB decision.  The Motion raised the prospect of immediate and irreparable harm that would occur if the decision was not stayed, as several webcasters stated that enforcement of the new rates could put them out of business.


Continue Reading NAB Joins the Fray on Internet Radio – Appeals and a Request for Stay are Filed, And a Settlement Offer is Made to Noncommercial Webcasters