Using music on your website, employees on Facebook or twitter, doing podcasts?  Everyone needs a guide to the legal issues that you may face as broadcasters move their content to new platforms.  At the Convention of the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, held in Oklahoma City on March 18-19, David Oxenford

At more and more broadcast conventions, station owners have been asking questions about their legal liability for the use of social media.  What is their liability for the use of Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or other services?  Could owners have liability if their station maintains its own page on which friends and followers may post statements which are defamatory or which could otherwise give rise to

In the next few days, concerns about the protection of children from indecency and violence could lead to a report from the FCC to Congress urging use of the V Chip and other parental controls in devices other than television sets.  Remarks several weeks ago by FCC Chair Julius Genachowski suggesting that the FCC might want to look at content regulation beyond the broadcast medium, a view reiterated in an interview yesterday in TV NewsCheck, also suggest that  concerns about the exposure of children to indecency and other troubling programming on cable, online and by wireless devices may lead the FCC into unprecedented extensions of its regulation of entertainment content beyond the broadcast media.  An article today from Bloomberg News confirms that the FCC will be starting an inquiry to see if the television program ratings should be extended to cable and wireless entertainment services.  This extension of Federal regulation to protect children is occurring at the same time that similar concerns are being expressed by state legislatures, including the adoption of a recent law in Maine that effectively prohibits direct marketing to minors.

The report due this week follows a Notice of Inquiry issued by the Commission in March, as required by the Child Safe Viewing Act, legislation passed by Congress.  The law required that the FCC solicit public comment on "advanced blocking technology", the next generation of the V Chip, to see if these technologies can and should be extended to video programming other than broadcast television, including online communications, wireless communications (including video delivered to mobile  devices), DVRs and other video recorders, DVD players, and cable television.  The FCC Notice also asked why the current V Chip has seemingly not been used much by parents.  The FCC even asks if rules should be extended to video games – which were not specifically named in the legislation.  This would seemingly extend the FCC’s jurisdiction far beyond its current limits.  The FCC’s report is due by August 29. 

Continue Reading Protection of Children Prompts Potential FCC Regulation of Internet and Wireless Video Programming and Enhanced State Privacy Rules

As you may have heard, Facebook is going to allow users to register names in their Facebook URL, replacing the former random ID numbers.  This policy, announced in a Facebook blog post earlier this week will become effective on a first come, first served basis beginning Saturday, June 13 at 12:01 am.  This new policy creates the danger that Facebook users may try to register as their user name words or phrases that could infringe on a company name, trademarked slogan, or even a broadcast station’s call signs.  To prevent others from using your company’s name, call sign or other trademark, Facebook has created a form allowing rights holders to register their marks ahead of time.  To protect your intellectual property in the easiest manner possible (without the need for costly infringement lawsuits of other actions), companies should take advantage of the procedures outlined by Facebook itself, and register with the company.

A couple of caveats:  

  1. User names have to be at least five alphanumeric characters.  This means that four letter call signs cannot be used as user names unless used with a suffix or frequency.  Since periods are the only punctuation allowed, acceptable user names might be WXYZ.FM, or FM98.1, for example. 
  2. In order to prevent someone from using your trademark in advance, it appears that it must be a registered mark.  However, a separate form appears to allow intellectual property rights holders to reclaim a user name, even if it is not a registered trademark.  Thus, if your company name, mark or call sign is unregistered, you can either register it as your own Facebook user name or wait until someone else does that and complain after the fact.  You do not need to be a Facebook user to submit the intellectual property rights forms described above.


Continue Reading Protect Your Company Name or Call Sign on Facebook

This past week, I attended the BIAfn Winning Media Strategies Conference in Washington, DC.  During the course of the conference, there was much talk about how broadcasters and publishers need to provide unique service to their communities in order to survive in the competitive media marketplace.  The point was made over and over again that, in each market there are unique attributes and personalities that a station should be covering in its programming, and should be exploiting even more broadly through their digital assets, to tie it to its community.  Only by doing so will the station be able to survive in the new media environment – and by doing so, the station may be able to thrive.  In fact, I was stuck by a statement by USC’s Adam Clayton Powell III that domination of the local online and digital media marketplace was "the broadcasters to lose."  In other words, the broadcaster has such unque promotional abilities with its current audience that it can establish its brand in the online and in the mobile world far easier than other media players.  But there were also the repeated warning that there is more and more competition for this local digital market from new entrants and other media entities and that, if the broadcasters did not take advantage of their current advantage, the local service would come from someone else.  What most stuck me was that there was no question that the superservice to local needs would be coming from someone – broadcaster or not – as a result of marketplace developments, not because of any government mandate.  The broadcaster has to adapt to and compete in this new media marketplace or become culturally and economically irrelevant.  The broadcaster needs to serve the local market to meet these challenges, not because some Washington agency has ordered him to do so.  And the broadcaster needs to serve his community in a way that the public will find compelling, not in a way that the government thinks is best.

At BIAfn, the presentation that made the greatest impact was probably that of Greenspun Media from Las Vegas, which has reinvented a secondary newspaper and a Low Power TV station as an on-line powerhouse, uncovering the aspects of the community that would draw the largest audience and covering that information in great detail.  The Las Vegas Sun site not only covers hard news, but also the gaming industry, University of Las Vegas sports and even state government issues in a way that its audience seems to find interesting.  Even a history of Las Vegas, in great detail, is included.  And video plays a big part of the site, with the company in development of a hip news and events program, 702.tv, that will soon be a daily program on the television station and online (featuring local "celebrities" doing the weather, including strippers and Neil Diamond sound-alikes).  While some attendees at the conference thought that Las Vegas presented unique opportunities that might not be available in all communities, many were immediately speculating on the opportunities in their own communities to find unique personalities and events that could be developed on-air and on-line in ways to maximize their connection with their audience. 

Continue Reading Localism Without Government Regulation

decision by a US District Court in New York was just released, setting the rates to be paid to ASCAP for the use of their composers’ music by Yahoo!, AOL and Real Networks.  The decision set the ASCAP rates at 2.5% of the revenues that were received by these services in connection with the music portions of their websites.  These rates were set by the Court, acting as a rate court under the antitrust consent decree that was originally imposed on ASCAP in 1941.  Under the Consent Decree, if a new service and ASCAP cannot voluntarily agree to a rate for the use of the compositions represented by ASCAP, the rates will be set by the rate court.  The Court explained that they used a "willing buyer, willing seller" model to determine the rates that parties would have negotiated in a marketplace transaction  – essentially the same standard used by the Copyright Royalty Board in setting the rates to be paid to SoundExchange for the use of sound recordings by non-interactive webcasters (see our post here for details of the CRB decision).  The ASCAP decision, if nothing else, is interesting for the contrasts between many of the underlying assumptions of the Court in this rate-setting proceeding and the assumptions used by the Copyright Royalty Board in setting sound recording royalty rates.

First, some basics on this decision.  ASCAP represents the composers of music (as do BMI and SESAC) in connection with the public performance of any composition.  This decision covered all performances of music by these services – not just Internet radio type services.  Thus, on-demand streams (where a listener can pick the music that he or she wants to hear), music videos, music in user-generated content, karaoke type uses, and music in the background of news or other video programming, are all covered by the rate set in this decision.  Note that the decision does not cover downloads, presumably based on a prior court decision that concluded that downloads do not involve a public performance (see our post here).  In contrast, the CRB decision covered the use of the "sound recording" – the song as actually recorded by a particular artist – and covers only "non-interactive services," essentially Internet radio services where users cannot pick the music that they will be hearing.

Continue Reading Rate Court Determines ASCAP Fees for Large Webcasters – Some Interesting Contrasts with The Copyright Royalty Board Decision

Website operators who allow the posting of user-generated content on their sites enjoy broad immunity from legal liability.  This includes immunity from copyright violations if the site owner registers with the Copyright Office, does not encourage the copyright violations and takes down infringing content upon receiving notice from a copyright owner (see our post here for more information).  There is also broad immunity from liability for other legal violations that may occur within user-generated content.  In a recent case, involving the website Roommates.com, the US Court of Appeals determined that the immunity is broad, but not unlimited if the site is set up so as to elicit the improper conduct.  A memo from attorneys in various Davis Wright Tremaine offices, which can be found here, provides details of the Roommates.com case and its implications.

In the case, suit was filed against the company, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, as the site had pull-down menus which allowed users to identify their sex, sexual orientation, and whether or not they had children.  Including any of this information in a housing advertisement can lead to liability under the law.  The Court found that, if this information had been volunteered by users acting on their own, the site owner would have no liability.  But because the site had the drop-down menus that prompted the answers that were prohibited under the law, liability was found.

Continue Reading Court Affirms Website Owner’s Insulation from Liability for User-Generated Content – If the Website Does Not Contribute to the Liability

As more and more broadcasters create and use websites (and, to some extent, are required to post more information on those sites by the FCC, see our post here), they should be cautious about the legal liabilities that arise from these sites.  For instance, as websites are used to gather personal information for listener’s clubs