Last year’s Court of Appeals decision on Internet radio royalties for 2006-2010 remanded one issue to the Copyright Royalty Board for further consideration – the issue of the minimum annual fee to be paid by each webcaster. The Copyright Royalty Judges (“CRJs”) had decided on a $500 per channel minimum fee – a fee that created much concern in the Internet radio community as there was no clear delineation of what a channel was. For services, like Pandora, where there is a unique stream created for each listener, by some definitions there could be an almost infinite number of channels all subject to the $500 minimum fee. Following the CRB’s initial decision, a number of the larger webcasters and SoundExchange entered into a settlement capping the minimum fee obligation at $50,000 per webcaster per year. Thus, services with more than 100 channels would only pay a minimum fee of $50,000 at the beginning of each year. However, this settlement was never extended to all webcasters – it applied only to those webcasters who signed the deal.  Following the Court remand, SoundExchange and DiMA (the Digital Media Association which represents many webcasters), submitted the 2007 settlement to the CRB to be codified into the rules that govern webcasters generally. Just before Christmas, the CRJs asked for comments on that settlement. Comments are due by January 22. 

In many cases, this settlement has been superseded by subsequent events – namely the settlements with webcasters that were entered into in February and then later in the summer under the provisions of the Webcaster Settlement Acts. Settlements with broadcasters, pureplay webcasters, small commercial webcasters and various noncommercial groups all set their own minimum fees (and, for the most part, cover the periods through 2015), and thus this proceeding is largely irrelevant to these webcasters. If this settlement is approved, the only remaining question before the CRJs on the remand of the 2006-2010 proceeding will be the minimum fee for some noncommercial groups that did not enter into any settlement, as this agreement on minimum fees applies only to commercial webcasters.


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Sets Comment Date on Internet Radio Minimum Fee Settlement

Both the House and the Senate have now approved the Webcaster Settlement Act of 2008, which will become law when it is signed by the President. Just what does this bill do? It does not announce a settlement of the contentious Internet Radio royalty dispute, about which we have extensively written here. It does not change the standard for judging Internet radio royalties, as had been proposed in the Internet Radio Equality Act, introduced last year and now seemingly dead in the waning days of this Congress, and in the Perform Act, about which we wrote here (the IREA and the Perform Act proposed different standards – the first more favorable to webcasters and the second more favorable to SoundExchange). These issues will seemingly be left to be disputed in a future Congress. Instead, the Webcaster Settlement Act seems to only adopt a simplified process for the approval of settlements that may be reached by the parties on or before February 15, 2009 – a settlement process that had been previously used in the Small Webcaster Settlement Act (the language of which this bill amends).

What is the significance of these new settlement processes? Under current law, any settlement between any group of webcasters and SoundExchange could only be binding on the entire universe of sound recording copyright holders if that settlement was approved by the Copyright Royalty Board. If an agreement is not binding on all copyright holders, then the reason for the statutory royalty – being able to pay one entity and get access to all the music in the world – would not be met.  The current procedures for approving settlements seem to contemplate such settlements only before a decision on royalties is reached by the CRB.   While some have speculated that the Court of Appeals that is currently considering the CRB appeal could remand the case to the CRB to effectuate a settlement and force the CRB to address it, that is by no means certain. For instance, the large webcasters, through their organization DiMA, reached a settlement with SoundExchange to cap minimum fees at $50,000 per webcaster. In their briefs filed with the Court of Appeals, both DiMA and SoundExchange have asked the Court to remand that aspect of the case to the CRB for adoption – yet that request has been opposed by the Department of Justice acting on behalf of the CRB. Thus, voluntary settlements may not be easy to obtain.


Continue Reading Webcaster Settlement Act – What Does It Mean?

Monday, July 16th is the first business day after the effective date of the new Internet Radio royalties set by the Copyright Royalty Board.  As we wrote earlier this week, the Court of Appeals has denied the requested stay of the effective date.  And, while a bill was introduced in Congress this week to provide for a legislative stay, that will not be acted on by Monday, nor will action occur on the broader Internet Radio Equality Act.  Thus, many webcasters are asking what they should do on July 16.  Some have suggested that they should stop streaming, while others have wondered what will happen if they don’t pay the higher royalties.  This decision is one that each webcaster should make carefully, in consultation with their counsel and business advisers.  But there are some practical considerations that should be taken into account when making the decision as to what should be done on Monday.

First, it should be noted that not all webcasters are equally affected by the royalty rate increase.  Larger commercial webcasters, including most broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet, should have been paying royalties up to now that, while lower than those adopted by the CRB, have increased by "only" about 40%  – from $.00076 per performance (per song per listener) to $.0011 per performance.  These rates will continue to increase between now and 2010 so that they eventually will reach $.0019 per song per listener.  But for now, the increase is relatively modest (as compared with some of the other increases discussed below).  While there are reportedly at least some conversations going on between SoundExchange and groups representing broadcasters and large webcasters about reaching some sort of accommodation on royalties, there is no certainty that any deal will be reached, so these webcasters probably should be paying the higher royalties (and hoping for a credit against future royalties should there be an agreement reached in the future to reduce these royalties, a successful appeal, or future legislative action reducing the royalties).


Continue Reading It’s July 15th – What’s a Webcaster to Do?