willing buyer willing seller

The Songwriter’s Equity Act has once again been introduced in Congress (see our article about that Act when it was introduced in the last Congress). It proposes to make changes in provisions of the Copyright Act governing the way that songwriters are paid for the use of their musical compositions – with the obvious intent of raising the songwriters’ compensation. This legislative proposal is one reflection of the complaints by songwriters that they are not sufficiently compensated for the use of their music. It is interesting that this bill was introduced during the same week that ASCAP announced its first year of billion dollar collection for songwriter’s public performance royalties, and at the same time that the Senate explores more comprehensive changes to the antitrust consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI through a hearing held last week, with the Department of Justice review of these decrees expected in the not too distant future (see our article here).

The Act makes seemingly small changes in legislation, but those changes could have a significant impact on how rates paid to songwriters are computed. The first change proposed is to allow the rates set for the public performance of sound recordings (those royalties that digital music services pay to SoundExchange for the public performance of sound recordings – the actual recordings of songs as opposed to the performance of musical compositions for which ASCAP, BMI and SESAC pay songwriters) to be used as evidence by the judges setting rates for the public performance of musical compositions. That has been prohibited under current law. It is interesting to note that, under Copyright Royalty Board precedent, the Copyright Royalty Judges have in the past determined that the rates paid by music services for the public performance of musical compositions are not a precedent for the public performance of sound recordings, as they are different rights that are not necessarily of the same value. Yet this legislation seems to assume that the royalties for sound recordings are in fact instructive as to what those rates should be for public performances. While seemingly acknowledging the relevance, the legislation does not allow the reverse – stating that the legislation should not be seen as having any effect on the precedent already established by the CRB for the rates for the public performance of sound recordings, so that the rates for sound recordings should not be affected by this legislation.
Continue Reading Songwriter’s Equity Act Reintroduced – What Does It Propose?

Last week, the Copyright Royalty Board asked for comments on a proposed settlement agreement between Sirius XM and SoundExchange, and some articles about that announcement have not been entirely clear about what the deal covers.  It has nothing to do with webcasting royalties for 2016-2020, which are still being litigated (see our article here about the proposals of the parties in that case).  Nor does it have to do with the royalties payable for Sirius’ primary satellite radio service, which were just upheld by the Court of Appeals (see our article here).  Instead, these royalties have to do with a very narrow part of Sirius’ business – providing music channels packaged and sold to consumers along with video services like cable and satellite TV.

Some who closely follow these issues (and the coverage of CRB issues on this blog) may think that the rates for these services were set at the same time as the Sirius rates for their satellite music service, as the CRB at that time set the rates that were applicable to Music Choice, which also offers a music service bundled with cable or satellite video programming (see our articles on the recent decision on the appeal of the rates, and the article on the CRB decision itself here).  Even though Music Choice offers pretty much the same service, their rates are different – as Music Choice was classified as a “preexisting subscription service” in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, while the service that Sirius provides is classified as a “new subscription service” paying at a different royalty rate set by the CRB using a different royalty standard.  How did this happen?
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Announces Settlement between Sirius and SoundExchange for New Subscription Services Packaged with Cable and Satellite Video – How Different Royalty Standards Result in Different Royalty Rates

A decision by the US Court of Appeals on the appeal of the Copyright Royalty Board decision as to the Sirius XM and Music Choice royalties for the public performance of sound recordings is one of the many year-end decisions important to broadcasters and digital media companies that seems to be flooding out from Courts and agencies in DC and elsewhere. The Court of Appeals rejected the appeal of SoundExchange, which was arguing that the royalties for both services should have been set higher by the CRB, and the Court also rejected the appeal of Music Choice, which argued that the royalties that were set by the CRB should have been lower.  We wrote about the CRB’s decision, here, when it was initially released about 2 years ago.

The proceeding involved the Preexisting Subscription Services (“PSS”) and the Preexisting Satellite Digital Audio Services (“SDARS”), services that were singled out when Congress adopted the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in 1998 by applying a different standard to those services for use by the CRB in determining the amount of sound recording performance royalties.  Instead of using the “willing buyer, willing seller” standard that applies to webcasters and any other digital music service that was not in existence in 1998, these services are evaluated under the 801(b) standard of the Copyright Act, which looks at a variety of factors including the market rate expressed by the willing buyer willing seller standard, but also at the relative financial contributions of the parties to bringing the music to the public, and the effect of royalty changes on the stability of the industries involved (see our articles here, here and here about the differences between these standards)  Using this 801(b) standard, most observers believe that royalties have been set at rates lower than have prevailed in the cases involving services subject the willing buyer willing seller standard.
Continue Reading Court of Appeals Upholds Copyright Royalty Board Decision on Sirius XM and Music Choice Royalties

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee last week finished its second hearing on music licensing (written witness statements and a link to the webcast can be found here).  Congressional hearings usually are not in-depth proceedings looking to establish detailed facts as done in a hearing in a court proceeding.  Instead, they are formalized proceedings where parties get to make their canned statements setting out positions on issues.  Congressional representatives themselves make statements setting out their positions on the issues, and ask pointed questions to selected witnesses to reinforce those positions.  Minds are rarely changed, and the truly undecided are rarely illuminated on the issues.  But the hearings do serve to set out the issues that are going to be considered by the Committee in ultimately crafting legislation.  And last week’s hearing did just that – highlighting the issues likely to be considered in legislation promised by the Committee Chair, Representative Goodlatte, who promised an omnibus bill on music licensing, dubbed the “Music Bus,” to address the many issues on the table.

Note that any bill that is ultimately introduced will address many seemingly minor issues – details of process and procedure that don’t make the headlines.  But the big issues are the ones that will cause the most industry argument before the lawyers work out the details.  It’s also important to note that it is very late in the legislative calendar right now, with the Senate not putting the same emphasis on copyright issues as it the House.  With elections coming up in the Fall, and scheduled upcoming summer recess, Congress has much must-pass legislation that will fill up their legislative days before the next Congress is sworn in in January.  The start of a new Congress means that all legislation will have a fresh start.  Thus, any Omnibus bill that is introduced this year will most likely not become law, but instead will set the agenda for discussions for next year in the new Congress.  Certainly, there may be more limited bills that sponsors may try to get stuck on other legislation that must move before the end of the Congressional session, so interested parties will remain vigilant during the final days of this session of Congress.  But what are the issues that are on the table for inclusion in any Music Bus?
Continue Reading The Summer of Copyright, Part 2 – The House Judiciary Committee Plans Omnibus Music Licensing Bill – The “Music Bus”

The Copyright Office recently issued a Notice and Request for Public Comment on a study that they have commenced on music licensing in all of its forms.  We’ve written about the complexity of the music licensing process many times, and about proposals for reform.  Many of these proposals have been issued in connection with the speeches of Copyright Register Maria Pallante’s discussion of copyright reform (see our article here), and the subsequent Green Paper on Copyright issued by the Patent and Trademark Office (see our article here).  This Notice appears to be one more step in this overall review of copyright underway throughout the administration and in Congress.  The Notice released by the Copyright Office is wide-ranging, and touches on almost every area of controversy in music licensing.  Comments are due on May 16, and the Copyright Office promises to hold roundtable discussions to further explore the issues in music licensing.

The issues on which the Copyright Office asks for comments deal both with the licensing of the musical composition or musical work (the words and music of a song) and the sound recording (the song as actually recorded by a particular artist).  The request deals with both the public performance right for musical compositions, usually licensed through ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, and the rights to make reproductions of the works, which are usually licensed by the music publishers, sometimes through organizations like the Harry Fox Agency.  On the sound recording side of the music world, the rights are usually licensed by the record company except for the public performance royalties paid by non-interactive music services, which are collected in the United States by SoundExchange. 
Continue Reading Copyright Office Begins Wide-Ranging Inquiry Into Music Licensing

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
Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Calls for Petitions to Participate in Proceeding to Set Webcasting Royalties for 2016-2020 – Posing Many Questions for Potential Participants

Congressman Mel Watt from North Carolina this week introduced his long-awaited bill proposing that over-the-air radio broadcasters pay a royalty to sound recording copyright holders (usually the record label) and to artists. As we have written many times, currently, royalties on sound recordings are paid only by companies that make digital performances, including webcasters (see our summary of the current webcasting rates here) and satellite radio (see our summary of the recent decision on satellite radio rates here). While the bill’s proposals for a broadcast royalty has been covered in many other news reports, few note that the Watt bill, called the Free Market Royalty Act, goes far beyond past proposals for a royalty on over-the-air broadcasters. In addition to the over-the-air royalty, the bill proposes that the Copyright Royalty Board be taken out of the equation in setting royalties.  And the removal of the CRB from the process applies not just to the proposed new performance royalty on broadcasters, but also to the setting of royalties for all other noninteractive commercial digital music services. Instead of a CRB proceeding to set rates, commercial music users, including webcasters and satellite radio, would need to negotiate a royalty with copyright holders – principally with SoundExchange – a royalty not subject to review as to the reasonableness of the rates by the CRB or by the Courts.

And the proposal goes further than simply designating SoundExchange as the party with whom all noninteractive digital audio services would go to negotiate royalties. In addition, the bill provides that any copyright holder could opt out of the rates negotiated by SoundExchange, after they are set, and negotiate direct licenses for its music with music services, including radio broadcasters. Seemingly, a popular band, or a label with a number of hit acts, that thought that it could get more from its music than any rate to which SoundExchange agreed, could withdraw from any "deal" with SoundExchange, and negotiate on their own for what would presumably be higher royalties.  If the copyright holder withdraws its music from the SoundExchange royalty, broadcasters and other music services could not play that music unless and until a license deal was reached.


Continue Reading Congressman Watt’s Music Royalty Bill – Performance Royalty For Over-the-Air Broadcasters And Other Fundamental Copyright Act Changes Impacting All Digital Music Services

The royalties that Sirius XM will pay to SoundExchange for the next 5 years will be decided by the Copyright Royalty Board ("CRB") in December. To summarize the hearings that have been held over the last year, the CRB held an oral argument last week, where Sirius XM and SoundExchange presented their arguments as to what those royalties should be. Sirius argued that the rates should be decreased, while SoundExchange contended that the rates should go up significantly from the 8% of revenue that the service now pays (see our summary of the current Sirius XM rates here). How can these parties have such different perspectives on the value of music, and what did this argument say about the application of the 801(b) standard that applies to Sirius?  This standard is the standard that webcasters are seeking to apply to Internet Radio services through the Internet Radio Fairness Act which we wrote about here.  If the IRFA is adopted, it would apply when the CRB next reviews webcasting rates in a case that will be decided by the end of 2015.

Sirius XM and cable music provider Music Choice, which was also part of the proceeding, are both governed by the 801(b) standard rather than the “willing buyer, willing seller” standard that applies to Internet Radio. The oral argument made clear that the adoption of the 801(b) standard is not in and of itself a panacea for the concerns about the royalties that have been set by the Copyright Royalty Board. Last week’s argument focused on the value of music in a marketplace – essentially the “willing buyer, willing seller” question. While other 801(b) factors were discussed, they were seemingly passed over quickly, with most of the focus being on the questions of the marketplace value of the music.


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Oral Argument on Sirius XM SoundExchange Royalties – A View of the Application of the 801(b) Standard Proposed for Internet Radio

The Copyright Royalty Board today released its Determination of Rates for noninteractive webcasting services for the period from 2011-2015. These rates will form the default rates for webcasters who have not opted into one of the many voluntary agreements negotiated last year under the Webcaster Settlement Act (see our summaries of the Pureplay webcaster deal here, the Broadcasters settlement here, the Small Webcasters or "microcaster" settlement here, the noncommercial webcasters settlements here, the Sirius XM settlement here, and the CPB/NPR settlement here).  The Board set the following per performance royalty rates as the default rates for webcasters who are not terrestrial broadcasters:

  • 2011 – $.0019 per performance
  • 2012 – $.0021 per performance
  • 2013 – $.0021 per performance
  • 2014 – $.0023 per performance
  • 2015 – $.0023 per performance

Thus, the rates for this coming year will remain at the same level at which they are now set for 2010, and will increase slightly every other  year.  A performance is one song played to one listener. 

The decision also adopted default rates for noncommercial webcasters, setting those rates at the levels agreed to in a settlement between SoundExchange and certain noncommercial educational webcasters reached last year. Those rates establish a minimum fee of $500 for each individual channel offered by a noncommercial webcaster. If the listening on any channel exceeds 159,140 Aggregate Tuning Hours in any month, the webcaster would pay for such overage on a per performance basis at the following rates:

  • 2011 – $.0017 per performance 
  • 2012 – $.0020 per performance
  • 2013 – $.0022 per performance
  • 2014 – $.0023 per performance
  • 2015 – $.0025 per performance


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Reaches Determination on Royalty Rates for Webcasting for 2011-2015 – For Internet Radio Operators Not Covered by Webcaster Settlement Act Agreements

The Copyright Royalty Board has announced its approval of new sound recording performance royalties for "new subscription services", i.e. music services provided to the customers of cable or satellite television systems by companies not in this business in 1998 at the time of the adoption of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.   This royalty was adopted after a settlement between Sirius XM Radio, the only music service which filed to participate in this proceeding, and SoundExchange.  The settlement as approved provides for royalties that are the higher of 15% of the revenues of the service (subscription payments plus other revenues such as advertising and sponsorships provided by the service), or a minimum per subscriber fee that increases over the five year course of the royalty period.  The details of this settlement, including the escalating per subscriber royalties, can be found in the Federal Register notice of its approval, here.

This royalty has very limited applicability, governing only the payments due from audio services "transmitted to residential subscribers of a television service through a Provider which is marketed as and is in fact primarily a video service," i.e. music services bundled with a subscription to a cable or DBS service – and only where that service is delivered to residential users.  Given the limited applicability of this service, one might be inclined to ignore its adoption.  However, broadcasters in particular should pay attention to this royalty, as it is again indicative of the value that the music copyright holders and SoundExchange place on the use of their music in an audio service, and thus of what SoundExchange would seek were they to get a performance royalty on over-the-air broadcasting.   


Continue Reading Copyright Royalty Board Approves Settlement for Sound Recording Royalty Rates for “New Subscription Services” – Any Hints As to What A Broadcast Performance Royalty Would Be?