webcasting royalties for broadcasters

Here are some of the regulatory and legal actions of the last week of significance to broadcasters, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

  • FCC fines against two radio stations serve as a reminder that station managers need to pay close attention

The alphabet soup of organizations that collect royalties for playing music has never been easy to keep straight, and today royalty issues sometimes seem even more daunting with new players like GMR (see our articles here, here and here) and arguments over issues like fractional licensing that only a music lawyer could love (see our articles here and here). But there are certain basics that broadcasters and other companies that are streaming need to know. Based on several questions that I received in the last few weeks, I’ve been surprised that one of the issues that still seems to be a source of confusion is the need to pay SoundExchange when streaming music online or through mobile apps. For the last 20 years, since the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, anyone digitally transmitting noninteractive music programming must pay SoundExchange in addition to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (and more recently GMR) for the rights to play recorded music – unless the service doing the digital transmission has directly secured the rights to play those songs from the copyright holders of the recordings – usually the record labels.  Why is there this additional payment on top of ASCAP, BMI and SESAC?

SoundExchange represents the recording artists and record labels for the royalties for the performance of the recording of a song (a “sound recording” or a “master recording”).  ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and GMR by contrast represent the songwriters who wrote the song (not the performers) and their publishing companies.  When you play music on your over-the-air radio signal, you only pay for the public performance rights to the underlying musical composition or “musical work” as it is often referred to in the music licensing world – the words and music of the song.  This money goes to the songwriters and their publishing companies (the publishing companies usually holding the copyright to the musical composition). But, in the digital world, for the last 20 years, anyone who streams music, in addition to paying the songwriters, must pay the performers who recorded the songs and the copyright holders in the sound recordings (usually the labels).  That is the royalty that SoundExchange collects.
Continue Reading Are You Streaming Your Radio Station? Reminder that Broadcasters Need to Pay Royalties to SoundExchange as well as ASCAP, BMI and SESAC

Earlier today, Triton Digital’s President for Market Development John Rosso and I discussed the new webcasting royalty rates adopted last week by the Copyright Royalty Board to cover the sound recording performance royalty for 2016-2020.  You can listen to that conversation discussing the basics of that decision here.  John and I discuss what rights

The proposals for the royalty rates to be paid by webcasters to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings for 2016-2020 are now on file with the Copyright Royalty Board, and they represent two differing perspectives on the state of the industry and how much Internet radio companies can and should pay to record companies and recording artists.  As we wrote many months ago, the CRB initiated its proceeding to set these royalties back in January, and earlier this month, participating parties, including internet music services and SoundExchange, were required to file their “direct case exhibits” – written witness statements setting out the arguments to justify the proposals of each side, and their proposed royalty rates.  These direct cases (with certain confidential information redacted) are now available on the CRB website. So what are the parties proposing?

SoundExchange provided expert testimony and exhibits from record company executives to contend that there are many new entrants into the streaming industry and that the industry is healthy and growing.  Looking at deals that have been done in the marketplace, including deals for “interactive streaming” (deals negotiated directly between services and copyright holders, and not subject to CRB oversight and review – see our article here), SoundExchange suggests that the royalties should increase from their current rate of $.0023 per performance (e.g. per song per listener).  Their rate proposal is to go from $.0025 in 2016 to $.0029 in 2020. But, in a new wrinkle, they propose that the CRB should adopt a new “greater of” formulation, suggesting that all commercial Internet radio services should pay the greater of the suggested per performance royalty or 55% of revenue related to their streaming.  This greater of formulation is partially justified by SoundExchange based on their witnesses claim that such “greater of’ formulations are common in interactive streaming agreements.
Continue Reading Webcasting Rate Proposals for 2016-2020 Now Public – What Will The Copyright Royalty Board Be Considering in Setting Royalty Rates for Internet Radio?

So you want to start streaming your radio station on the Internet?  Or maybe you want to start a whole new Internet radio station.  In a session at last week’s Texas Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention in Austin, Dave Oxenford talked about the legal considerations starting an Internet radio station, while Chris Dusterhoff

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

We reported on the settlement under the Webcaster Settlement Act between the NAB and SoundExchange on Internet Radio Royalties. As provided in the Webcaster Settlement Act, that settlement has now been published in the Federal Register, and thus it is available for broadcasters who are streaming their signal on the Internet, or who are streaming other programming on the Internet, to claim coverage under that settlement. To do so, broadcasters who are already streaming must file a notice of Intent to Rely on this settlement, available here, with SoundExchange, by April 2, 2009 – thirty days after the Federal Register publication occurred. Broadcasters who are not now streaming, but who start in the future, must file the election notice within 30 days of the start of their streaming, or they will be bound by the rates established by the Copyright Royalty Board in their 2007 decision (see our post here). The publication sets out several other details of the settlement, set forth below.

The rates: The rates, which represent some savings under the CRB rate for the years between 2007 and 2011, are set forth below.  These rates are "per performance", meaning that the rate is paid on a per song, per listener basis.  If you play 10 songs in an hour, and each song is heard by 10 people, you have 100 performances.  There are companies that provide services to track and report on performances.  See our post, here, for details.  There are also limited exceptions to the full "per performance" reporting, summarized below.  The rates under this agreement are as follows:


2006 ……………………………….. $0.0008

2007 ……………………………….. 0.0011

2008 ……………………………….. 0.0014

2009 ……………………………….. 0.0015

2010 ……………………………….. 0.0016

2011 ……………………………….. 0.0017

2012 ……………………………….. 0.0020

2013 ……………………………….. 0.0022

2014 ……………………………….. 0.0023

   2015 ……………………………….. 0.0025

Continue Reading Details of the Broadcaster SoundExchange Settlement on Webcasting Royalties