webcasting recordkeeping requirements

Last month, we wrote about the FCC issues facing broadcasters in 2015.  Today, we’ll look at decisions that may come in other venues that could affect broadcasters and media companies in the remaining 11 months of 2015.  There are many actions in courts, at government agencies and in Congress that could change law or policy and affect operations of media companies in some way.  These include not just changes in communications policies directly, but also changes in copyright and other laws that could have a significant impact on the operations of all sorts of companies operating in the media world.

Starting with FCC issues in the courts, there are two significant proceedings that could affect FCC issues. First, there is the appeal of the FCC’s order setting the rules for the incentive auction.  Both Sinclair and the NAB have filed appeals that have been consolidated into a single proceeding, and briefing on the appeals has been completed, with oral arguments to follow in March.  The appeals challenge both the computation of allowable interference after the auction and more fundamental issues as to whether an auction is even permissible when there is only one station in a market looking to give up their channel.     The Court has agreed to expedite the appeal so as to not unduly delay the auction, so we should see a decision by mid-year that could tell us whether or not the incentive auction will take place on time in early 2016.
Continue Reading What Washington Has in Store for Broadcasters and Digital Media Companies in 2015 – Part 2 – Court Cases, Congressional Communications and Copyright Reform, and Other Issues

Time flies, and more regulatory requirements and comment deadlines in regulatory proceedings are upon us in the month of August.  The regular regulatory deadlines include license renewal for TV and LPTV stations in California, and EEO Public Inspection File yearly reports for stations in California, Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.  Noncommercial TV stations in California and North and South Carolina all have ownership reports on Form 323E due on the August 1, and noncommercial radio stations in Wisconsin and Illinois have ownership report obligations too.  We can also expect that the deadline for submission of Annual Regulatory Fees will be set this month but, as we have not yet heard about that date, the deadline for the fees to be paid may not be until sometime in September.

In addition to the regular filings, there are numerous proceedings in which various government agencies will be receiving comments in proceedings that could impact broadcasters.  Next Wednesday, August 6, the FCC will be taking comments on it Quadrennial Review of the multiple ownership rules. The issues to be considered include the TV ownership rules (including the question of how to deal with Shared Services Agreements) about which we wrote yesterday.  Also to be considered in the proceeding are questions about the radio ownership rules, and the cross-interest rules – including whether to change the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rules.  But the FCC is not the only one who will be receiving comments on issues that can affect broadcasters.
Continue Reading August Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Renewals and EEO, and Comments on Multiple Ownership, Music Rights, New Class of FM, and Much More

On Friday, the Copyright Royalty Board published in the Federal Register a proposal for changes in its recordkeeping rules – suggesting more detailed requirements for larger webcasters who are required to report the songs that they play on a “census” basis – that would be most webcasters who are required to report the songs that they play, how often they were played, and how many people listened when they were played each time.  Conversely, for the smallest of webcasters, those who pay a “proxy fee” so that they do not have to report the details of how many listeners were listening to each song that was played, the questions asked by the CRB are geared to potentially expanding the universe of those who do not need to report.  Comments are due on June 2, with replies due on June 16.  Given the potential economic impact that these proposals could have on businesses of all sizes, anyone steaming their music on the Internet and reporting to SoundExchange should carefully consider the details of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and whether to submit comments in this proceeding.

The proposals to require more detailed recordkeeping originated from SoundExchange, which filed a Petition for Rulemaking asking that the CRB adopt new rules on a number of issues.  The Board last comprehensively visited this topic in 2009 (see our summary here).  The Board’s Notice of Proposed Recordkeeping poses a number of questions that were raised by SoundExchange, and asks for public comment.  What are these proposals?
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Starts Rulemaking to Change Recordkeeping Requirements for Commercial and Noncommercial Webcasters

SoundExchange claims on its website that webcaster SWCast.net was shut down when SoundExchange complained to its ISP that the service was not paying royalties for the use of the music played by the site.  SWCast was an aggregator of webcast channels created by other individuals, who paid the company – allegedly for the streaming and for the royalties that were due for that streaming.  According to the SoundExchange press release, the webcaster was shut down when SoundExchange "sent a letter requesting that the hosting ISP disable access to the SWCast site."  SoundExchange’s statement says that, despite repeated attempts to engage the webcaster, SWCast neither paid royalties nor filed reports of use for the songs streamed by the service, leading to SoundExchange’s action.  As far as we know, this is the first time that SoundExchange has taken such an action. 

How did this work?  While we have not seen the letter that SoundExchange sent to the ISP, we can assume that it alleged that SWCast was infringing on copyrighted materials by not paying the required royalties.  ISPs have a safe harbor under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, protecting them from liability for the infringement of users of their services, if the ISP does not encourage the infringement, registers an agent with the Copyright Office, and agrees to take down infringing content when properly notified by a copyright holder (see our post here).  We can only assume that SoundExchange or the copyright holders themselves notified the ISP that the material streamed by this webcaster was infringing as no royalties were being paid and, to protect itself, the ISP blocked access to the site.


Continue Reading SoundExchange Claims Credit for Shutting Down Webcaster Who Was Not Paying Royalties

In recent weeks, SoundExchange has begun to send letters to broadcasters who are streaming their signals on the Internet without paying their SoundExchange royalties.  Despite all of the publicity about Internet radio royalties and the controversy about the rates for those royalties, there still seem to be webcasters unfamiliar with their obligations to SoundExchange.  As we have written many times, SoundExchange collects royalties for the public performance of the "sound recording", a song as recorded by a particular artist.  Those royalties, which are charged only to digital media companies like Internet radio, satellite radio and digital cable radio, are paid half to the copyright holder in the recording (usually the record company for most popular songs) and half to the performers on the recording.  These royalties are paid in addition to the royalties paid to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC for the public performance of the musical work – the underlying musical composition, the words and music of a song – money that is paid to the composers of that musical work.  So just paying ASCAP, BMI and SESAC is insufficient to cover your streaming operations when music is being used. 

While these royalties have been law since 1998, and have been set by decisions first by a CARP (Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel) in 2003, and then by the Copyright Royalty Board in 2007, it seems like some companies still have not gotten the message about the obligations to pay these fees.  Thus, in the last few weeks, SoundExchange has been sending out letters to companies that have not been paying.  The letter are not particularly threatening – instead pointing out the obligations that companies have to pay the royalties, and asking if the webcaster may be paying under some corporate name that is not readily apparent from the website.  The letter also points the webcaster to the SoundExchange website for more information.  Finally, it notes that SoundExchange represents the copyright holders for collections purposes, and notes that nothing in the polite letter waives any rights that those holders have to pursue actions for failure to pay the royalties – in other words to sue for Copyright infringement.   So, gently, webcasters are reminded to pay their royalties or risk being sued for copyright infringement, with potential large penalties for playing music without the necessary licenses.


Continue Reading SoundExchange Sending Reminders to Broadcasters Who Are Not Paying Royalties for Streaming Music Sound Recordings

Many Webcasters who have elected the the royalty rates set by many of the settlement agreements entered into pursuant to the Webcasters Settlement Act must 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 2006-2010.  January 31 is an important date even for those webcasters who are covered by agreements that don’t demand an annual election, as most Internet radio operators must make annual minimum fee payments by January 31.  SoundExchange does not send out reminders of these obligations, so Internet Radio operators must remember to make these filings on their own.  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 need not meet 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, Noncommercial Educational webcasters and other noncommercial webcasters all are entered into on a year-by-year basis.  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 (though note that the SoundExchange website provides for filings by February 1, presumably as January 31 is a Sunday).

The election forms are available on the SoundExchange website, though they are not easy to find. The forms that must accompany the annual minimum fees are also on the SoundExchange website.  Note that in some cases there are forms that cover both webcasters who paying under a particular settlement, as well as under the special provisions for small entities that are covered by these same agreements (e.g. Small Pureplay webcasters file a different form than other Pureplay Webcasters even though both are governed by the same agreement.  Similarly Small Broadcasters file a form different than other broadcasters, though both are covered by the same agreement).  These forms can be found at the links below.  Click on the name of the category of webcasters for a link to our article that summarizes the particular settlement, the minimum fees required, and the qualifications for small webcasters under that deal (if there is such a provision):

Note that there is no specific form for NPR affiliates covered under the NPR settlement, as an organization set up by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting handles all payments and SoundExchange filings.  Other companies providing Internet radio services need to pay attention to these dates – and file the necessary papers and make the required payments by the upcoming deadline. 


Continue Reading Reminder: Many Webcasters Have to Make Annual Election of SoundExchange Royalty Rates and Minimum Fee Payments By January 31, 2010

The Copyright Royalty Board has ordered that most digital music services provide "census reporting" of all songs played by their service, along with other information including the number of listeners who heard each song each time it was played.  The decision, published in the Federal Register today, is a follow up to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking about which we wrote here, proposing this new permanent rule to replace the interim requirements that required that digital music services provide that information for two weeks each quarter.  The only exception to the new obligation was for "small broadcasters" – i.e. those broadcasters who are only obligated to pay the minimum $500 annual royalty. These small broadcasters will continue to report on the songs that they play for only two weeks each quarter.

The new general rule requiring census reporting applies to all digital music services that pay royalties to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings. However, the obligations set out in this general rule do not replace different rules that may be contained in settlement agreements entered into between services and SoundExchange.  Settlements with recordkeeping exemptions include the broadcaster settlement (summarized here), which give stations the ability to exclude some of their tuning hours from the census reporting requirements that were included in that settlement, and the noncommercial settlement agreements summarized here.  The CRB decision also excludes those services where per performance reporting is not possible (such as satellite radio services where there is no easy way to count performances). 


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Requires Census Reporting for All Webcasters Except for Small Broadcasters

In January, the Copyright Royalty Board asked for comments as to whether it should require "census reporting" of all sound recordings that are used by a digital service subject to the statutory royalty.  This would replace the current requirement that services need only report on the sound recordings used for two weeks every calender quarter.  Most of the comments that were filed dealt with the difficulties of certain classes of webcasters – particularly small webcasters and certain broadcasters – in keeping full census reports of every song that is played by a service, and how many people heard each song.  In a Notice of Inquiry published in the Federal Register today, the CRB asked for further information about the cost and difficulties of such reporting.  Comments on the Notice are due on May 26, 2009, and replies on June 8.

The real issues, as identified by the CRB, were raised by smaller entities that argued that they do not have the ability to track performances.  Especially problematic are stations that have on-air announcers who pick the music that they want to play in real time, and don’t run their programming through any sort of automation system or music scheduling software.  Live DJs playing music that they want is a hallmark of college radio, but one that creates problems for tracking performances.  How can a DJ’s on-the-fly selection of music be converted to the nice, neat computer spreadsheets required by SoundExchange for the Reports of Use of music played?


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Asks for Further Comments on Costs of Census Recordkeeping for Internet Radio Services