Tag Archives: PRO

If “Ambient” Music Is “as ignorable as it is interesting,” Can It Be Worth $15mm?

ESPN recently initiated a rate proceeding with performing rights organization BMI. ESPN claimed that the rate BMI was seeking was above market and asked the federal district court for the Southern District of New York, which has continuing jurisdiction over the consent decree between BMI and the Department of Justice to determine “reasonable” rates. BMI has responded (attached below) and claims it is simply asking ESPN to continue paying the same percentage of revenue rate to which it agreed 10 years ago.

BMI claims that ESPN utilizes a BMI blanket license to cover so-called “incidental and ambient” music performances, such as in broadcasts of live sporting events; e.g., at Heinz Field the Pittsburgh Steelers sometimes play Styx’ “Renegade” during commercial breaks when the Steelers are on defense to “hype” the crowd. If the Steelers are on Monday Night Football and ESPN breaks back to the game before “Renegade” has stopped playing, for the purpose of music copyright licensing ESPN has “performed” that song, for which it must have a license. This is true even though Heinz Field already has its own license to perform that song to the fans sitting in the stadium to watch the game. In a bit of litigation hyperbole BMI argues that “ambient stadium music is a critical component of the broadcast that allows ESPN to attract viewers by making them feel like they are sitting in the stadium cheering on their favorite team.” How can something that is “ambient” (e.g., “as ignorable as it is interesting”) also be a “critical component” of a broadcast?

So how much does BMI want ESPN to pay for this ambient but “critical component”? $15 million per year. That figure is the product of ESPN’s annual revenue ($11b in 2014) multiplied by 0.1375%, the lowest rate among the rates charged for cable television broadcasts (“music intensive” programming networks pay 0.9% of gross revenue, “general entertainment” programming networks pay 0.375% of gross revenue, and “news and sports” programming networks pay 0.1375% of gross revenue.).

However, in 2005, the last year of ESPN’s prior license with BMI, ESPN’s annual revenue was “just” $5b. 1 This is one of the problems with a percentage of revenue royalty rate: while it may be that ESPN viewed its “incidental and ambient” music performances on live broadcasts of sports to be “worth” $6.875mm annually, it does not mean that those same performances are “worth” more than twice that amount. This is especially true at a time when ESPN’s revenues are declining rapidly and content acquisitions costs are increasing. 2

BMI’s answer is below:

Espn v Bmi (Bmi Answer)

  1. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2005-10-16/in-the-zone
  2. “ESPN’s subscriber losses, which have seen it lose nearly 8.5 million homes in the last 4 1/2 years, according to Nielsen estimates, or down about 8 percent, are at a rate that is declining faster than the rest of the industry.” http://awfulannouncing.com/2015/espn-make-3-billion-lost-revenue-increased-fees.html

SESAC’d Post Script

The antitrust case brought by the Television Music License Committee against SESAC detailed here previously has been settled.  SESAC agreed to pay the TMLC members $43mm as damages (i.e., excessive royalty fees) and $16mm in legal fees.  The papers are below.

 

TMLC v SESAC (Memo Re Settlement)

TMLC v SESAC (Settlement Agt)

SESACed (the saga continues)

A recent order from Judge Jones in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania provides SESAC some much needed relief, but SESAC still faces a difficult trial.  Readers will recall that the RMLC brought Sherman Act claims against SESAC for allegedly anticompetitive behavior.  Specifically, the RMLC alleged three violations:: § 1—Horizontal Price Fixing (Count I), § 1—Group Boycott/Refusal to Deal (Count II), and § 2—Monopolization (Count III). In response, SESAC filed a motion to dismiss.  Judge Jones threw out the § 1 claims, but denied SESAC’s motion regarding the § 2 (monopolization) claim. 

In analyzing SESAC’s motion to dismiss, the court concluded that the RMLC’s “§1 and §2 claims are based on the confluence of four of SESAC’s licensing practices: SESAC’s blanket license (and its refusal to offer other licensing options), its procurement of a critical mass of must-have works, its de facto exclusive dealing contracts with its affiliates and its lack of transparency as to the works in its repertory.”  Breaking down the 3 alleged violations, the court looked first at the § 1 claims (price fixing and refusal to deal) and concluded that the RMLC had failed to adequately plead a violation.

 A hub-and-spoke conspiracy requires agreements between each spoke and the hub and between and among each of the spokes themselves. Howard Hess Dental Labs., Inc. v. Dentsply Intern., Inc., 602 F.3d 237, 255 (3d Cir. 2010) (“In other words, the ‘rim’ connecting the various ‘spokes’ is missing.”). After reviewing the allegations of agreement and the parties’ respective briefs, the court has concluded that plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts from which the court can draw a plausible inference of a hub-and-spoke conspiracy between and among SESAC and its affiliates. In particular, the court agrees with defendants that plaintiff has failed to plead the rim of a hub-and-spoke conspiracy by failing to plausibly allege agreements among SESAC’s affiliates.

Turning next to the § 2 claim (monopoly), the court considered that “Plaintiff alleges that SESAC excludes competitors by obtaining a critical mass of must-have works, selling them exclusively in the blanket license format, discouraging direct licensing by refusing to offer carve-out rights and obscuring the works in its repertory.”  The court found the RMLC had “sufficiently pleaded that SESAC’s lack of transparency exacerbates the exclusionary nature of its conduct by forcing radio stations to purchase the SESAC license even if they do not plan to perform the songs in SESAC’s repertory for fear that they may unwittingly air copyrighted content.”  Looks like this claim is going to be decided by a jury…

The order is below:

 

RMLC v SESAC Antitrust Decision

Don’t Fence Me In

An interesting lawsuit was recently filed by a group of radio stations over the digital retransmissions of terrestrial broadcasts.  VerStandig Broadcasting filed a declaratory judgment action against sound recording performance royalty collection society SoundExchange over a specific exception in the Copyright Act that limits the exclusive public performance right in sound recordings to be exclude retransmissions of AM/FM broadcasts within 150 miles of the original over-the-air transmission.  Specifically, Section 114(d) limits the scope of a copyright owner’s exclusive right in the public performance of sound recordings by means of a digital audio transmission.

The performance of a sound recording publicly by means of a digital audio transmission, other than as part of an interactive service, is not an infringement … if the performance is part of … a retransmission of a nonsubscription broadcast transmission: Provided, That, in the case of a retransmission of a radio station’s broadcast transmission … the radio station’s broadcast transmission is not willfully or repeatedly retransmitted more than a radius of 150 miles from the site of the radio broadcast transmitter … . 17 U.S.C. § 114(d)(1)(B)(i).

VerStandig claims that when Congress created the retransmission exception, “geo-fencing” technology, which is technology that “determines a recipient’s physical location by comparing a receiving computer’s IP address, WiFi and GSM access point, GPS coordinates, or some combination against a real world map of those virtual addresses,” wasn’t available to limit the recipients of AM/FM broadcasters’ retransmissions.  According to VerStandig, “When data is geo-fenced, only recipients physically located within the authorized locations can access the data over the Internet. Recipients who are physically located outside the geo-fence who attempt to access the data over the Internet receive a message explaining that the data is unavailable.”  Today, according to VerStandig, “Geo-fencing is a proven technology. It is used by the gaming industry to restrict access to online gambling to recipients physically located in jurisdictions where gaming is legal. And it is used by marketers for the direct advertising of products to persons physically located in targeted markets.”

VerStandig sent SoundExchange a letter notifying SoundExchange of VerStandig’s intention to stop paying royalties on performances of retransmissions within 150 miles of the original transmission.  SoundExchange apparently responded by stating that “the 150-mile exemption applies only ‘to retransmissions of broadcasts by cable systems to their subscribers or retransmissions by broadcasters over the air’ and that if the 150-mile exemption ‘did apply to [VerStandig’s] proposed simulcasting’ [VerStandig] would nevertheless need to pay royalties for copies or reproductions of the sound recordings in the FM broadcasts that it live streams.”

With respect to the first argument, the Senate Report on the Digital Performance in Sound Recordings Act appears to reject this conclusion.  The Senate Report says

Section 114(d)(1)(B)(i) (retransmission of radio signals within 150-
mile radius of transmitter)
Under this provision, retransmissions of a radio station within a
150-mile radius of the site of that station’s transmitter are exempt,
whether retransmitted on a subscription or a nonsubscription
basis, provided that they are not part of an interactive service.
This provision does not, however, exempt the willful or repeated
retransmission of a radio station’s broadcast transmission more
than a 150-mile radius from the radio station’s transmitter. The
Committee recognizes that the 150-mile limit could serve as a dangerous
trap for the uninitiated or inattentive. To ensure against
that possibility, section 114(d)(1)(B)(i) provides that a retransmission
beyond the 150-mile radius will fall outside the exemption
only if the retransmission is willful or repeated. The Committee
intends the phrase ‘‘willful or repeated’’ to be understood in
the same way that phrase was used in section 111 of the Act, as
explained in the House Report on the 1976 Act, H. Rept. 1476, 94th
Cong., 2d sess. 93 (1976).
Pursuant to section 114(d)(1)(B)(i)(I), the 150-mile limitation does
not apply when a nonsubscription broadcast transmission by an
FCC-licensed station is retransmitted on a nonsubscription basis by
an FCC-licensed terrestrial broadcast station, terrestrial translator,
or terrestrial repeater. In other words, a radio station’s broadcast
transmission may be retransmitted by another FCC-licensed broadcast
station (or translator or repeater) on a nonsubscription basis
without regard to the 150-mile restriction.

In addition to appearing to generally support VerStandig’s position, the highlighted language appears to capture TuneIn and iHeartRadio’s aggregation of simulcast transmissions.  As I understand it, the bulk of listening of retransmitted terrestrial broadcasts on services like iHeart are people listening to their old home-town station in their new town; e.g., I can listen to KDKA from Pittsburgh here in Oakland.

With respect to SoundExchange’s second argument (i.e., needing a license to make reproductions), this may run head-long into a very interesting fair use defense.  If Congress intended radio broadcasters to retransmit digitally their analog signals without paying a royalty under Sec. 114, could Congress have intended for the record labels to be able to demand a royalty (or sue for statutory damages for copyright infringement) for making ephemeral copies under Sec. 112?  My gut tells me that can’t be what Congress intended, but that might not matter is the law is otherwise unambiguous on this point.

The Complaint is here.

SESACked

Magistrate Judge Lynne Sitarski of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has issued her report and recommendation regarding the motion for preliminary injunction filed by Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) against performing rights organization (PRO) SESAC, Inc., seeking to prevent SESAC from instituting a rate increase during the pendency of the RMLC’s antitrust suit against SESAC for violations of Secs. 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.  While Mag. Judge Sitarski denied the RMLC’s motion, the RMLC is probably still thrilled with her R&R.

I described here the antitrust suit filed by the local television broadcasters against SESAC for antitrust violations.  That suit was filed in the Southern District of New York and has SESAC’s motion for summary judgment pending.  A companions case was filed by the RMLC in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  In that case, the RMLC sued SESAC for violations of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.  Specifically, Section 1 claim, “an antitrust plaintiff must plead the following two elements: (1) that the defendant was a party to a contract, combination … or conspiracy and (2) that the conspiracy to which the defendant was a party imposed an    unreasonable restraint on trade.”  Section 2 of the Sherman Act by using “de facto exclusive contracting practices to create a market artificially insulated from competition.” “Liability under section 2 requires: (1) the possession of monopoly power in the relevant market and (2) the willful acquisition or maintenance of that power as distinguished from growth or development as a consequence of a superior product, business acumen, or historic accident.”

When SESAC sought to increase the royalty rate applicable to RMLC member stations for CY 2014, the RMLC filed a motion for preliminary injunction to block the rate increase.  Ultimately, Judge Sitarsky concluded that remedies in the form of monetary damages could make the RMLC whole (if the RMLC is successful at trial) and denied the motion for an injunction.  In reaching her decision, however, Judge Sitarsky indicated she thinks the RMLC has established a prima facie case of a likelihood of success on the merits.

A key part of her reasoning was the inability of RMLC-member stations to license around SESAC because the exact scope of SESAC’s repertoire is unknown (some might say ‘hidden’).  This opacity around catalog information is important for at least two reasons.  First, not knowing what is within and without the SESAC repertoire impact Judge Sitarsky’s analysis of the applicable ‘market’ against which the RMLC’s antitrust allegations will be directed.

According to Judge Sitarsky:

The outer boundaries of a product market are determined by the reasonable interchangeability of use or the cross-elasticity of demand between the product itself and substitutes for it.” Queen City Pizza v. Domino’s Pizza, 124 F.3d 430, 436 (3d. Cir. 1997) (cited cases omitted). Interchangeability implies that one product is roughly equivalent to another for the use to which it is put. Id. When assessing reasonable interchangeability, factors to be considered include price, use, and qualities. Id.. Reasonable interchangeability is usually present when there is “cross-elasticity of demand” between the product itself and the substitutes for it.  Cross-elasticity of demand is present when the rise in the price of a good would cause the demand for substitutable goods to increase.

Because stations “cannot substitute non-SESAC performance rights for SESAC performance rights if SESAC charges above-competitive license fees,” Judge Sitarsky concluded that the “RMLC has produced sufficient evidence to make a prima facie showing that the relevant product market is the market for SESAC’s blanket license.”

This lack of transparency is also important to the court’s determination that direct licensing was an option for RMLC-member stations.  For example, Judge Sitarsky differentiated the SESAC case from the case involving CBS’ antitrust claims against ASCAP and BMI of the 1970s and 80s.

The instant case is distinguishable from CBS I because the SESAC blanket license is the sole source of the performance rights that radio stations need. This is because radio stations are unable to obtain a bundle of direct licenses acquired on an individual transaction basis for the music in SESAC’s repertory because they cannot determine what such a bundle  would entail. That is: only SESAC knows each and every song that comprises its repertory.

the inability of radio stations to conclusively determine what songs are SESAC songs precludes them from obtaining individual licenses from the composers, and foregoing a SESAC license. In other words, a SESAC blanket license is not reasonably interchangeable with a bundle of direct licenses permitting the use of SESAC’s repertory because the individual songs in SESAC’s repertory cannot be conclusively determined. While SESAC permits direct licensing by its affiliates, it is the entire bundle that a radio station needs to avoid infringement, and what constitutes the entire bundle is unknown.

Because the access to direct licenses was a key determination in the US Supreme Court that the ASCAP and BMI blanket licenses weren’t antitrust violations, this conclusion of Judge Sitarsky, if adopted by the District Judge, could have significant impact on whether SESAC’s blanket license can survive antitrust scrutiny.

Judge Sitarsky’s report and recommendation is here.

Brilliant Article DMX’s Rate Cases against ASCAP and BMI

I ran across the below article by Carly Olson, a 3L at Northwestern, about DMX’s rate proceedings against ASCAP and BMI.  Ms. Olson wisely (and prophetically) concludes that the Second Circuit should affirm the district court opinions in DMX’s favor.  I couldn’t agree more.  And, thankfully, neither could the Second Circuit!

Check out the article here.

Winning! Second Circuit Affirms DMX’s Rate Court Victories

It’s been a bad few weeks for ASCAP.  First, the Second Circuit affirmed Judge Cote’s decision in the MobiTV rate case.  Now, the Second Circuit has affirmed Judge Cote again, this time in the long-running rate dispute with DMX.  Adding insult to injury, the Second Circuit affirmed Judge Stanton’s decision in DMX’s rate dispute with BMI in the same opinion, which is provided below.

The BMI appeal was relatively straightforward–it argued that the direct licenses into which DMX had entered with music publishers for the right to publicly perform works in the publisher’s repertory wasn’t a reasonable benchmark for fee-setting.  BMI argued Judge Stanton should have used BMI’s agreement with Muzak, which was at a much higher rate, as the benchmark.  The Second Circuit disagreed with BMI (and agreed with Judge Stanton) that

The [direct licenses were ] not an unreasonable benchmark for DMX’s per-location licensing fees with ASCAP and BMI. It reflected the competitive market, was an appropriate valuation of the right to publicly perform the licensed musical works, and was consistent with the four factors that guide the selection of a benchmark (a comparable right, similar parties, similar economic circumstances, and whether the rate would be set in a sufficiently competitive market). … The right in question — the right to public performance — was comparable. The parties were also similarly situated.  Hundreds of music publishers and administrators agreed to the annual $25 per location royalty pool, and thus, the ASCAP rate court did not err in finding that the “collective decisions [of hundreds of publishers and administrators] to execute direct licenses [were] comparable to the decision [a PRO] makes in entering a license.” … While the economic circumstances of direct licensors differ from those of ASCAP and BMI, these differences were balanced by the additional compensation that PROs received under the district court’s rate formulas and “the degree of competition that the direct licenses inject into th[e] marketplace.” … Accordingly, in both cases, the district court did not err in finding that, for rights to publicly perform licensed musical works, direct licenses were more reflective of rates that would be set in a competitive market than blanket fees imposed by PROs on BG/FG music providers. (Internal citations omitted)

This holding, that direct licenses are more reflective of rates that would be set in a competitive market than blanket fees imposed by PROs, will have far-reaching implications for licensors and licensees beyond DMX and the background music industry.

The Second Circuit quickly dispensed with ASCAP’s contention that it was not required under its consent decree to offer an adjustable fee blanket license, holding that ASCAP’s consent decree (“AFJ2”) “permits blanket licenses subject to carve-outs to account for direct licensing, and we reject ASCAP’s claim that a blanket license with an adjustable carve-out conflicts with the AJF2.”

In affirming Judge Cote’s rejection of ASCAP’s fee proposal, the Second Circuit noted that “based on the testimony of ASCAP’s Chief Economist, it was not clearly erroneous for the district court to find that a static carve-out structure was anti-competitive and “inequitable” because it would effectively require DMX to pay more in total licensing fees and create incentives for DMX to abandon its direct licensing campaign.”

While some have declared Clear Channel’s deal with Big Machine as “groundbreaking” and “unprecedented,” the truth is that DMX and its rate court proceedings against ASCAP and BMI laid the foundation for Clear Channel’s deal.  All Clear Channel did was apply DMX’s model to terrestrial radio and webcasting.

The Second Circuit’s opinion is below
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MobiTV Rate Affirmed

In the first appeal of an ASCAP rate proceeding under Judge Cote, the Second Circuit has affirmed the District Court’s decision.

The case is interesting for several reasons.  First, as noted, it is the first rate decision of Judge Cote to be appealed.  The last rate decision of Judge Connor, the former SDNY judge who managed the ASCAP docket, the Yahoo! case, was recently remanded.  Second, the parties offered two vastly different views of the value of the through-to-the-audience (TTTA) license ASCAP provided.  In the proceedings in the District Court, ASCAP contended that it was entitled to over $41 million in fees for the period between 2003 and 2011.  Mobi contended that it owed only $301,257.99 for the period from November 2003 to July 2009.  Third, Judge Cote did not attempt to fashion her own reasonable rate.  Instead, she rejected ASCAP’s proposed fee proposal and generally adopted MobiTV’s fee proposal.  The result of Judge Cote adopting MobiTV’s proposal was a judgment setting a fee of $405,000 for the period from November 2003 through March 2010.

The Second Circuit’s decision is below:
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Kew-kew-kew-kew! Roscoe’s Owner Personally Liable for $204,000 Judgment for Unlicensed Public Performance

The Ninth Circuit, in an unpublished opinion, has affirmed a Central District of California’s granting of summary judgment in favor of music publishers whose works were publicly performed without proper license.  Range Road Music, Inc. v. East Coast Foods, Inc., 10-55691 (9th Cir., January 12, 2012).  The facts of the case are straightforward and similar to hundreds of other cases publishers bring against small businesses each year for unlicensed public performance.  In May, 2008, an investigator visited Roscoe’s House of Chicken & Waffles in Long Beach, California.  The investigator heard a band perform at least 4 songs and a DJ play another 4 songs from CDs.  Roscoe’s failed to obtain the necessary public performance licenses to perform these songs and the publishers filed suit for copyright infringement.

The defendants in this case, East Coast Foods, Inc. and Herbert Hudson, argued that the allegedly infringing performances actually occurred at The Sea Bird Jazz Lounge, which is located at the same address but operated as a separate business and owned by a separate company, Shoreline Foods, Inc..  Hudson, the sole officer and director of East Coast Foods and President of Shoreline Foods, was sued in his individual capacity.

The plaintiff publishers argued that East Coast Foods and Hudson were vicariously liable for the copyright infringement that occurred at The Sea Bird.  A defendant can be vicarious liable for copyright infringement if he “exercises the requisite control over the direct infringer and … derives a direct financial benefit from the direct infringement.” (at p. 5).  The District Court found that Hudson, as the sole officer and director of East Coast, did control the premises where the infringing performances occurred and did derive a financial benefit through the sale of food and liquor and was, therefore, vicariously liable for the copyright infringement that took place at Roscoe’s / Sea Bird.

In total, the District Court awarded the plaintiff publishers $203,728.22, which included $4,500 for each of the 8 infringements ($36,000) and attorneys’ fees and costs in the amount of $167,728.22.  Because he was found vicariously liable, Mr. Hudson is personally responsible for satisfying the entire $204,000 judgment.

The Ninth Circuit opinion is here:
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The District Court’s granting of summary judgment is here:
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The District Court’s award of fees is here:
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Did You Ever Wonder How BMI Calculates Your Royalties?

An interesting battle is raging in the Central District of California, pitting Broadcast Music Inc. (“BMI”) against one of its own publishers, Deyon Davis (through his publishing company Cinematic Tunes, Inc. (“CTI”)).  The dispute is over royalties BMI paid to Davis for performances of his works on two seasons of the reality show So You Think You Can Dance and one season of the reality show Superstars of Dance.  BMI claims that the cue-sheets on which it relied in making payments to Davis were falsified, at the request of Davis, resulting in over-payments of $1.5 million—nearly $725,00 paid to him individually, nearly $530,000 paid to Deyon Davis Music, and more than $270,000 paid to CTI.  Davis claims that he had nothing to do with the allegedly falsified cue-sheets and that “BMI unlawfully assumed the role of ‘judge and executioner’ with respect to the parties’ dispute, purporting to adjudicate the dispute in its favor and then engaged in self-help by seizing Counterclaimants’ subsequently earned royalties to satisfy its ‘judgment.'”

The war of words is fierce.  In his counterclaim, Davis calls BMI “a bully. BMI deceptively lures unsuspecting songwriters and publishers into its playground (BMI ‘s performing rights licensing and royalty system) with the promise of fun (the fair calculation and payment of royalties) and then spends the day bossing them around, beating them up and taking their toys.”

In its Motion to Dismiss Davis’ Counterclaims, BMI notes Davis’ “fraud-based criminal
convictions” and describes Davis’ actions as “intentionally undertaking to deceive a not-for-profit-making music licensing company into paying you considerably more than your share of royalties to the direct detriment of your fellow songwriters, composers, and music publishers, and then refusing to return any of those royalties when you get caught…”, which BMI characterizes as “dishonest.”

Interestingly, the publisher agreement on which BMI bases it’s breach of contract claim contains a broad mandatory arbitration provision, including exclusive jurisdiction in New York. (see attached).  It’s not clear why BMI choose to file suit in the Central District of California, except that some of the parties in the case were not BMI-affiliated writers or publishers.  I think I would have filed a motion to compel arbitration.

Davis’ Counterclaims
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BMI’s Motion to Dismiss
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BMI’s Publisher Agreement with Davis
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