Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board announced its calculations for whether there would be a cost of living increase in the 2019 rates that Internet radio stations pay to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings. In its initial release on the subject, the CRB’s announcement indicated that commercial webcasters would continue to pay at the rate of $.0018 per performance (set after a cost of living increase last year – see our post here). But that same notice indicated that the per performance rate would be $.0019 for noncommercial webcasters with substantial listening (i.e., those that stream more than the 159,140 aggregate monthly tuning hours that noncommercial webcasters receive for a $500 yearly payment), causing some concern among noncommercial webcasters as their per performance rates were supposed to be based on what commercial webcasters paid. That notice was revealed to be a typo according to a Federal Register correction published today – keeping the noncommercial rates at $.0018 once the noncommercial webcaster exceeds the initial complement of streaming hours it gets for the $500 yearly minimum payment (see our initial article on that decision here, and one that provided more details here).

While the rates stay the same for 2019, and will stay substantially the same for 2020 (subject only to a cost of living increase, if any), 2019 will begin the CRB proceeding for the setting of webcaster’s SoundExchange royalty rates for 2021-2026. The CRB sets rates in 5 year increments. But the proceedings to set those rates normally take two years to complete, so the proceeding to set the rates to be effective in 2021 will begin with interested parties filing petitions to participate in the proceeding following a CRB invitation to file, likely to be released at the beginning of 2019. Once parties have filed to participate, the CRB will announce a mandatory 90 day period in which the parties are to try to settle the case. If there is no settlement, the litigation will run through the remainder of 2019 and 2020, with a decision to be issued by the end of 2020.
Continue Reading No Cost of Living Change in Webcasting Royalties for 2019 – Rate Proceeding for 2021-2026 about to Begin

A year ago, when the Copyright Royalty Board adopted the rates for webcasters (including broadcasters who simulcast their programming by online streaming) to pay for the sound recording performance royalty (see our summary here and here), one difference from previous decisions is that there was a single per-song, per-listener royalty adopted. In the past

The Copyright Royalty Board Decision on the royalty rates to be paid for the public performance of sound recordings by Internet radio companies – webcasting royalties – was published in the Federal Register today. We wrote about that decision setting the royalties here and here. The publication in the Federal Register gives parties to the proceeding 30 days in which to file an appeal of the decision. Appeals are heard by the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC.

While we have written about some issues with the decision raised by small webcasters about there not being a percentage of revenue royalty, as that issue was not raised before the CRB as no small webcasters participated, that is not an issue that the Court will consider – as the Court looks to whether the decision was arbitrary and capricious based on the evidence adduced at trial, or whether the decision was without substantial evidence in the record. It is focused on what was argued at trial, rather than what was not. Similarly, the issues about the performance complement waivers for broadcasters, which we also wrote about in the same article, are statutory issues that need to be addressed by waivers from copyright holders, not by a court appeal. Noncommercial groups have also expressed disappointment in the decision.
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Webcasting Royalty Decision Published in the Federal Register – Appeals Due in 30 Days

March appears to be another busy month on the FCC’s regulatory calendar.  While March is one of those months where there is not the usual assortment of EEO public file reports, quarterly issues programs lists or children’s television reports and noncommercial ownership report obligations (see our Broadcasters’ Regulatory Calendar here for some of these dates), it is a month with many other significant regulatory dates.  For instance, this month brings the scheduled start of the TV incentive auction as stations make binding commitments as top whether they will accept the FCC’s opening bids in the reverse auction.  It also brings deadlines for comments in a number of other proceedings that may affect broadcasters, including the FCC’s proceeding on AM radio revitalization and the Copyright Office’s look at the safe harbor for user-generated content.  In addition to comment periods, the lowest unit rate periods that apply during the 45 days before a Presidential primary are in effect in many states, plus March brings other deadlines including those for the first filing date for monthly SoundExchange Reports of Use under the new Internet radio royalty rates.  All make for a month where broadcasters need to watch regulatory developments very closely.

So let’s start with the incentive auction.  As we wrote just a few days ago, March 29 is the deadline for TV broadcasters to make a binding commitment to accept the FCC’s initial offer to buy their spectrum.  TV broadcasters who filed applications to participate in the Incentive Auction back in January were merely leaving the door open to their participation.  The March 29 deadline is the real legally binding commitment to surrender their spectrum at the price that the FCC has offered for their stations.  To make sure that broadcasters understand what they are doing, and how to make their commitments, as we wrote in our article, the FCC has set up an online tutorial on the system and will be holding a workshop about the process.  So if you have a TV station interested in taking advantage of the FCC’s offer to buy out your frequency, this is the month that the commitment needs to be made.
Continue Reading March Regulatory Dates for Broadcasters – Including Incentive Auction Commitments, New Webcasting Royalties, and Comments on AM Revitalization and Copyright Safe Harbor for User-Generated Content

The text of the Copyright Royalty Board decision on Internet Radio Royalties for 2026-2020 was released last Friday. While it is 203 pages long, the basis for the decision is relatively simple. As required by the Copyright Act, the Copyright Royalty Judges looked at all of the evidence presented to determine what rate a willing buyer and a willing seller would agree to in a marketplace transaction. In looking at that evidence, they decided that the best evidence for that rate was two deals actually done in the marketplace – one deal between Pandora and the independent record label organization Merlin and another between iHeartRadio and Warner Music. As these were deals for the very rates to be decided by the Judges – the rates for the public performance of sound recordings by noninteractive streaming companies – the Judges determined that these two deals best evidenced the value put on streaming royalties by actual players in the marketplace. Looking at the per song per listener rates specified in those deals, and making a few adjustments based on other consideration included in the deals (particularly in the iHeart deal), the Judges arrived at a per song per listener rate for each deal, and determined that they set the bounds of the reasonable rates for nonsubscription webcasting. Taking into account that approximately 2/3 of the music played by webcasters is from major labels like Warner as opposed to that from the independent labels such as those that were part of the Merlin group, the Judges gave the rates from the iHeart deal greater weight in determining where within the zone of reasonableness the rates should fall. Thus, the Board determined that the rate for nonsubscription, noninteractive services should be $.0017 per performance (i.e. per song per listener). This is the rate that they published back in December (about which we wrote here).

While the basis for the decision seems relatively simple, the process to get to that decision was not – and it took 203 pages for the Judges to discuss all of the issues that they weighed in coming to their conclusions. While some of those pages were dedicated to discussions of the rates for noncommercial webcasters and the terms of the payments to be made by webcasters (topics we will try to cover in a later post), the bulk of the decision was a discussion of how the Judges weighed the arguments of the parties in the case in reaching their conclusion. While no summary can cover all of the issues that went into this consideration, some of the issues covered in this decision are discussed below.
Continue Reading Looking at the Decision of the Copyright Royalty Board on Internet Radio Royalties for Commercial Webcasters – What are the Issues that the Judges Considered?

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.
Continue Reading CRB Announces Webcasting Royalty Rates for 2016-2020 – Lower Rates for Broadcasters Who Stream, Minimal Change for Pureplay Webcasters

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?
Continue Reading Waiting for the Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Internet Radio Royalty Rates – Decision To Be Announced on Wednesday

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? 
Continue Reading Adele’s New Record is Not on Online Streaming Services – Except Where It Is – The Difference Between Interactive and Noninteractive Streaming

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.
Continue Reading Understanding Music Royalties – Congressional Research Service Releases Summary of the Law, While DOJ Asks for More Comments on ASCAP and BMI Consent Decree Reform