SoundExchange Extends Offer to Small Webcasters
SoundExchange offered to extend to small webcasters through 2010 the terms of prior legislation known as the Small Webcaster Settlement Act (SWSA) with some minor modifications. The 2002 act that sunset in 2005 had set temporary below-market royalty rates for small Internet radio stations in order to provide them additional time to build their businesses. SoundExchange's offer to extend the core SWSA terms represents a continued subsidy for these small webcasters in the form of lower payments to artists and content owners.
Today's offer comes as a direct response to a request from the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property to "initiate good faith private negotiations with small commercial and noncommercial webcasters with the shared goal of ensuring their continued operations and viability." The Subcommittee's request was sent to SoundExchange last week in a letter co-signed by Representatives Howard L. Berman (D-CA) and Howard Coble (R-NC)1.
"Although the rates revised by the CRB are fair and based on the value of music in the marketplace, there's a sense in the music community and in Congress that small webcasters need more time to develop their businesses," said John Simson, Executive Director of SoundExchange. "Artists and labels are offering a below-market rate to subsidize small webcasters because Congress has made it clear that this is a policy it
Chairman and Ranking Minority Member respectively of the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet and Intellectual Property. desires to advance, at least for the next few years. We look at it as artists and labels doing their part to help small operators get a stronger foothold."
This offer is only for small webcasters and defers the new rates set by the CRB on May 1, 2007, retroactive to January 1, 2006 and effective through 2010. While the subsidy is an effort by SoundExchange to address alleged weaknesses of the small webcasters' businesses, SoundExchange noted that this proposal is an adjunct to the CRB process.
"The copyright royalty judges conducted a thorough and comprehensive legal proceeding. The judges determined fair rates based upon marketplace evidence provided by all parties. Nobody is questioning the integrity of the CRB process," said Michael Huppe, General Counsel of SoundExchange. Indeed, the Subcommittee noted that, "we have not yet been provided with a single credible assertion by a party to the proceeding that tends to demonstrate the CRB deviated from the process specified in the Reform Act."
Huppe added, "This offer is not about displacing the Judges' correct analysis of the market, but rather about extending for a limited time the below-market rates that these small businesses received several years ago. We have heard the concerns of Congress and we are responding."
As suggested by the Subcommittee, SoundExchange is proposing that the subsidy be based on a percentage of revenue model and is proposing the same rates that prevailed under SWSA: small webcasters would pay royalty fees of 10 percent of all gross revenue up to $250,000, and 12 percent for all gross revenue above that amount. The proposal includes both a revenue cap and a usage cap to ensure that this subsidy is used only by webcasters of a certain size who are forming or strengthening their business.
"These modest limitations assure that the subsidy is targeted only to those webcasters that Congress believes need the additional financial flexibility to build their businesses. When a company's revenue or listenership reaches a certain level, our proposal appropriately provides that they share those full gains with the artists who helped create this opportunity for them," said Huppe. "The net result of this proposal is that small webcasters would be guaranteed no increase in royalty payments for 13 years, from 1998- 2010."
Of particular concern to SoundExchange and the thousands of artists and labels it represents is the lack of compliance by most small webcasters, including many that have complained the loudest about the CRB decision. Indeed, in their letter Representatives Berman and Coble noted that, "In return for compelling sound recording copyright owners to make their works available, the qualifying services agree to meet the terms and conditions of the compulsory license, which, inter alia, requires the periodic filing of statements of account and the timely payment of statutory royalties to the copyright owners whose works they have elected to perform."
In order for the process to work, small webcasters need to register with the copyright office, comply with all reporting requirements to SoundExchange and not avoid paying royalties that are lawfully owed. "The artists and labels are acting in good faith today, giving small webcasters a break. In return they expect the integrity of their music and their copyrights to be respected. That includes proper tracking and reporting of how their music is used, and that they are properly compensated," said Simson.
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