Webcastng, SoundExchange, and more

The reason I was invited to this conference is because I've assisted CBI in the copyright proceeding now before the Copyright Royalty Board in which the webcasting royalty "rates and terms" are being decided. The proceeding involves SoundExchange (the entity tasked with collecting and distributing the statutory royalties to artists) on the one hand, and royalty payers (which includes everyone from Yahoo! to Live 365 to noncommercial entities like NPR, religious broadcasters and college radio) on the other side. The rate paying proceding is just entering the "rebuttal" phase and a final ruling from the Board setting rates for webcasts between 1/1/06 and 12/31/09, is expected sometime in the first quarter of next year.

With this background, I was on a panel with Gary Greenstein, the general counsel for SoundExchange, and Will Robedee and Joel Willer, two individuals who have testified on behalf of college radio/educational stations to explain to the Board why rates should be lower than what SoundExchange is currently seeking. Will and Joel first offered background on the rate paying proceeding, and explained about a related proceeding in which the Board recently announced the new "record-keeping" terms for the reporting usage by webcasters. The October 6 "final interim rules" set forth detailed requirements for how the users who wish to take advantage of the statutory royalty should report their usage. It is the result of a nearly 4-year proceeding, during which the deciding panel and procedures were entirely revamped, causing much delay and confusion.

Most of the panel discussion centered on these new record-keeping rules. This makes sense because most webcasters (including non-commercial entities, on extremely tight budgets) are now required to retroactively (to 1/1/06) build reports about their usage by quarter and submit those reports in the very near future. The date those reports are due is not yet determined. (Evidently this was an oversight by the Board which Greenstein hopes is corrected soon. He has written a letter the Board asking that they address that issue.)

Greenstein provided a lot of information in response to questions from the audience. He described in detail what the rules, from SoundExchange's perspective, require of college webcasters, and how the retroactivity works. I have to say he held up well, despite being in a room full of people who are not particularly happy with his organization. The audience was hanging on nearly every word he said as the reality of the (impossible?) task the Board has established with which college radio stations must now comply. He did admit that the SoundExchange website is not intuitively set up, and said that people at SE are working on that. If users are having difficulty figuring out where certain information or documents are located, they can call SE directly and Gary will help them solve their problem (if one of his assistants can't do it for him).

Admittedly, about half-way through the discussion, I realized that I'm not going to be adding much to this conversation... in fact, this is the only panel I've ever been on where there were no questions directed to me at all! I had a good chuckle afterwards about that. In any event, it's cool with me that we had Greenstein here to answer all those detailed questions about the reports of use requirements and hear SoundExchange's perspectives on enforcement of the rights etc. It was clearly valuable for this community of college webcasters to get to hear the words from one of SoundExchange's own representatives.

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