The full decision of the Copyright Royalty Board on Internet Radio royalties, excluding confidential information, has now been made public and is available here.  In December, we wrote about the rates and terms of the royalties that webcasters pay to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings as set by the CRB

The Copyright Royalty Board yesterday announced on its website the royalty rates that webcasters will pay to SoundExchange for the use of sound recordings in their digital transmissions over the Internet and to mobile devices in the period from 2016-2020.  For commercial webcasters, the CRB set $.0017 as the per performance (i.e. the rate paid per song, per listener) rate for nonsubscription streaming, and $.0022 per performance for subscription streaming.  For most webcasters, including broadcasters, this represents a drop of approximately 1/3 in the rates paid – perhaps the first time in any CRB proceeding that rates decreased as the result of a CRB decision.  The rates and terms adopted by the CRB for this statutory license can be found here.

For Pureplay webcasters, like Pandora, the nonsubscription rates represent a modest increase from the $.0014 rate that they were paying in 2015 pursuant to the Pureplay Agreement negotiated under the Webcaster Settlement Act almost 8 years ago (see our article here).  For the subscription services offered by these companies, the rate actually decreases from the $.0025 rate that they had been paying. There is also no provision for a percentage of revenue. The Pureplay Agreement had required that services pay the higher of the per performance rate or 25% of the webcaster’s gross revenues from all sources, limiting their growth outside of webcasting, and preventing companies with substantial other business interests from entering the Internet radio market and relying on the Pureplay rates. That percentage of revenue overhang has been eliminated.  For a summary of the rates that had been in effect for all of the different classes of webcasters, see our article here.
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It seems like every streaming company, and every financial analyst and reporter covering the media beat has been breathlessly awaiting the release of the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision on Internet Radio Royalties that will apply to noninteractive streaming companies during the years 2016-2020.  Many have been predicting a decision for days.  But, in a public notice released today and available on the CRB website, the CRB announced that the that the decision will be released on Wednesday.  While the CRB will make the rates available on their website on Wednesday, the full decision will only go, initially, to the Librarian of Congress which oversees the administrative aspect of the CRB and reviews its decisions for legal errors, and to counsel involved in the case. Counsel will have an opportunity to review the decision to suggest that portions of the decision containing confidential business information be redacted from the public version of the decision, a version that will be released at some point in the future.  So the streaming world will know by Wednesday what they will be paying in the upcoming 5-year period, barring any post-decision changes through appeals, direct licenses, or other processes.

To clarify, this decision only apples to noninteractive streaming companies – webcasters or Internet radio – where the listener cannot select the next song to be played.  It does not apply to digital music companies where parties can play individual tracks on demand, or where they can save music into playlists where the songs can be replayed in the same order repeatedly.  Those paying these “statutory royalties” must adhere to certain restrictions as to how often a particular song will be played, but get the rights to play any song legally released in the United States.  See our article here as to why Adele could refuse to make her songs available to services like Spotify, while Pandora and other Internet radio companies could play those songs.  And these royalties apply only to streams that are directed to US residents, which is why many webcasters, including Pandora, are not available in much of the world.  See our article here on determining where royalties are paid for digital content.  Even though limited to these particular digital music services, the decision remains very important.  What happens when the decision is released, and what is next?
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Adele’s decision to not stream her new CD “25 on services like Apple Music and Spotify has been the talk of the entertainment press pages – like this article from the New York Times.  These articles make it sound like, if you listen to any Internet music service, you’ll not hear a song from the new record.  But, in fact, if you listen to an Internet radio service, like a Pandora, iHeart Radio, Accuradio, the streams of over-the-air radio stations, or any of the myriad of other “noninteractive services” that are available online, you will hear music from 25.  The legal distinctions that allow these services to play Adele’s new music is often not recognized or even acknowledged by the popular press.  Why the difference?

As we’ve written before in connection with music from the Beatles (see our articles here and here), the difference deals with how music is licensed for use by different types of digital music services.  On-demand or “interactive” audio services, like Spotify and Apple Music or the recently in-the-news Rdio, obtain music licenses through negotiations with the copyright holders of the sound recordings – usually the record labels.  These are services where a listener can specify the next track that he or she will hear, or where the listener can store playlists of music they have selected, or even hear on-demand pre-arranged playlists with the tracks in the playlist identified in advance by the service.  If the record labels and the service can’t come to terms for the use of music by one of these interactive services, then the music controlled by the label does not get streamed.  Often, these negotiations can be lengthy, witness the delay of over a year from when Spotify’s announced its launch in the US and when that launch actually took place, because of the complexity and adversarial nature of these negotiations.   In some cases, major artists, like Adele, and before her Taylor Swift and, for a long time, bands like the Beatles and Metallica, had agreements with their labels that gave them the rights to opt out of any deal that their labels did with these audio services.  So, if an artist like Adele can opt out of being played by a service like Spotify, why is she being streamed by online radio? 
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The legal issues surrounding the use of music in broadcast and digital media is one of those topics that is usually enough to make eyes glaze over.  The importance of understanding these issues is illustrated by this week’s request from the Department of Justice for more information about the rights of songwriters to authorize ASCAP and BMI (often referred to as Performing Rights Organizations or PROs) to license their works to services like radio stations and webcasters when there are multiple songwriters who may not all be members of the same rights organization.  While we try to provide some explanations of some of those issues on this Blog, I wanted to point to a couple of other resources available to address some of these issues and to, hopefully, help make some of those issues understandable.

First, I wanted to note that I’ll be moderating a panel on current music issues at the NAB Radio Show in Atlanta on Thursday afternoon (the panel is described here) featuring representatives of the NAB, RIAA, BMI, Pandora and the Copyright Office.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to unpack some of the motivations and directions of the music royalty debates that are going on in Washington DC.  For those of you not able to make that panel, and even those of you who are planning to attend, a new source of information that provides a very good summary of the many music licensing issues now being considered by Congress and the courts is a report prepared by the Congressional Research Service released last week, available here.  The report explains in relatively simple terms how music licensing works in the United States, and describes many of the current legislative and judicial issues that currently could affect that licensing.  While obviously not addressing all of the subtleties of the arguments of all of the parties to these proceedings, the report does at least give a relatively neutral summary of the arguments of the parties.
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The Copyright Royalty Board has begun the hearing phase of its proceeding to set the royalties to be paid by webcasters (or noninteractive digital music services) for public performances of sound recordings for the years 2016-2020. These are the royalties paid by Internet radio companies to SoundExchange, allowing them to play any recorded music legally released in the United States since 1972 (see our article here about issues regarding pre-1972 sound recordings), as long as the digital service pays the royalties set by the Board and observes other rules set by the Copyright Act. This proceeding began in January 2014, when the CRB asked for petitions to participate in the proceeding. After those petitions, parties had time to engage in settlement discussions before filing “written direct cases” last October – written witness statements setting out the rates proposed by each party and the justifications for those rates (see our summary of the parties initial proposals here). Since that time, the parties have been engaged in discovery, producing mountains of documents relevant to the claims made, and conducting depositions of a number of witnesses. This week, the case moved into its trial phase.

On Monday, the parties still participating in the proceeding presented to the 3 CRB judges their opening statements where their attorneys summarized what they hope to prove over the next 5 weeks of trial. During the trial, the parties will formally introduce their written statements (available on the CRB website, here, with sensitive business information redacted), which have been amended based on facts uncovered during the discovery that was conducted, and their written rebuttal testimony – testimony that was provided to the CRB in February to rebut the initial written cases (available on the CRB website, here, with sensitive business information redacted). Such rebuttal testimony has itself been subject to the discovery process. There can be various objections to the written evidence presented – including questions of hearsay or relevance to the proceeding. For virtually all of the written statements, the individual who provided that testimony will be present at the hearing to introduce that testimony, and each witness will be subject to cross examination by the other parties. As is evident by the number of exhibits that have been submitted, there will be dozens of witnesses to be heard – from renowned economists and other experts, to record label and digital music company executives, to broadcasters large and small. 
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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.
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The Copyright Royalty Board today published in the Federal Register its notice announcing the commencement of the next proceeding to set webcasting royalty rates for 2016-2020.  The Notices (here for webcasting and here for “new subscription services” – subscription webcasting and other similar pay digital music services, other than satellite and cable radio whose royalties were set in another proceeding about which we wrote here) were notable as they were not simply an announcement that the proceedings were beginning and a recitation of the procedure for filing a petition to participate (essentially a written filing setting out a party’s interest in the outcome of the proceeding and the payment of a $150 filing fee). Instead, the order sets out a series of questions for consideration by potential participants, asking that they consider some fundamental issues about the nature of the royalty to be adopted in this proceeding.  Petitions to participate must be filed by interested parties with the CRB by February 3

The questions asked by the Judges really revolve around two issues that have been raised many times in prior proceedings.  These questions are noteworthy only because the Judges are asking the parties to consider whether the CRB should address issues that have been litigated in prior proceedings – issues that some might have considered to be settled by these prior cases.  First, the Judges ask if the CRB would be justified in adopting a percentage of revenue royalty, rather than the per song, per listener royalty metric that has been used in the three prior proceedings. Asking that question raises several other sub-issues that are set out in the orders including:

  • Whether it is too difficult to determine what the revenues of a webcaster are, an issue that can be troublesome if the webcaster has multiple lines of business where determining which revenues are attributable to webcasting and which are attributable to other services might be complicated (though collection agencies like ASCAP and BMI are able to administer their royalty schemes, usually using a percentage of revenue rate).
  • Whether a percentage of revenue royalty is unfair to the artists because it does not pay each artists an equivalent amount for each song that is played, thought the Judges ask parties to address whether all music is worth the same amount (see our article here about the difficulty in assessing the value of music and the controversies that it raises).
  • Whether a percentage of revenue royalty encourages the webcaster to use too much music, as services not paying on a per song per listener basis might not need to be efficient in monetizing their music use unless, as suggested by the Board, there are substantial minimum fees adopted to encourage the webcaster to make money off of its use of the music.

In addition, the Board asks if there should be different rates for different types of webcasters – are some more efficient than others?  Can royalties be maximized by “price discrimination” – charging less to certain webcasters to get whatever can be received from them, while charging a higher royalty rate to other services that can afford to pay more?  In effect, there has been price discrimination in the webcasting market, but such discrimination has come about after there have been decisions perceived as adverse to webcasters, when webcasters and SoundExchange have come together, often as the result of political pressure, to negotiate alternative rates pursuant to a Webcaster Settlement Act (or the Small Webcaster Settlement Act in the initial proceeding).  See our summary of the differing royalty rates currently paid by webcasters pursuant to these negotiated deals, here
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In one week this month, Apple announced that it will get into Internet Radio, and Pandora, the biggest player in that space, announced that it will be buying a traditional, over-the-air radio station. What do these two big announcements say about the state of music royalties for digital music services? Apple’s struggles to get its service launched were well chronicled, as it was working to get an agreement for its new service from the record labels. What was less reported was its simultaneous negotiations with the music publishing community. Pandora’s radio station purchase, on the other hand, was admittedly a simple deal to take advantage of a blanket license available to all similarly situated companies owning radio stations. We’ll explain why these two deals were so different, and what impact the deals may have on other digital music services below.

The Apple deal is one negotiated with the copyright holders for the simple reason that the service that it is offering appears to be an interactive one, unlikely to be completely covered by any statutory (compulsory) or other blanket license. As we’ve written before, a statutory or compulsory license is one where the copyright holder, by law, cannot refuse to make available his or her copyrighted work. But, in return, the copyright holder receives a royalty set by the government – in the US, usually the Copyright Royalty Board. In the music world, the two most common compulsory licenses are the ones that allow webcasters and other digital music services to publicly perform sound recordings (the royalties paid by webcasters, satellite radio and digital cable radio companies to the record companies and artists), and the royalty that allows users (including record companies) to make reproductions of musical compositions in connection with the making of a sound recording, downloads, ringtones, and probably on-demand streaming services. This royalty is commonly referred to as the mechanical royalty, and is paid to songwriters and composers or their publishing companies. To qualify for these compulsory licenses, a company must follow certain rules. If they don’t, then they have to negotiate directly for the licenses from the copyright holder – which appears to be what Apple did.


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The Librarian of Congress has announced the appointment of two new judges to the Copyright Royalty Board – marking a total change in the three judge board since the decision in the last webcasting royalty case (about which we wrote here). The two new judges are David Strickler and Jesse Feder. Mr. Strickler will serve through 2016, taking the position of Judge Wisnewski (who resigned about a year ago) as the economics expert required by the statute creating the Board. Mr. Stricker is currently Senior Counsel at a law firm in New Jersey, specializing in business litigation, according to his biography on the firm’s website, here. He also has a Masters Degree in economics, and is an adjunct economics professor as Brookdale College in New Jersey.

Mr. Feder takes the place of Judge Roberts, who was one of the original CRB judges and had worked in the Copyright Office in connection with the CARP process that set the first rates for webcasting back in 2002. Judge Roberts recently resigned from the Board. The position that Mr. Feder takes is required by statute to be filled by someone with Copyright experience. According to Mr. Feder’s online profile, he was the Director of International Trade and Intellectual Property at the Business Software Alliance, and previously held several supervisory positions at the Copyright Office and in the Library of Congress. His appointment, filling Judge Roberts’ seat, lasts only until 2014 (but he could be reappointed). 


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