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New music royalty, repack bills crop up in Congress

 - Microsoft white space play endangers translators, LPTVs

While most DC watchers are fixated on the Republicans’ stalemate over healthcare, dithering over infrastructure investment, Russian spies and anxiety over tax reform, broadcasters are eyeing a handful of new proposals on music licensing and the spectrum repack that could significantly alter the business landscape for stations – and not all for the better.

Music licensing is the focus of two measures that would impact local broadcasters. On the upside, a key House lawmaker introduced HR 3350, the Transparency in Music Licensing and Ownership Act, with Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, as one of the original co-sponsors.

Initiated by the NAB in concert with a coalition representing bars, restaurants, hotels, retailers and digital music services, the measure would:

  • require the Register of Copyrights to establish and maintain a current informational database of musical works and sound recordings while granting the Register authority to hire employees and contractors, promulgate regulations, and spend appropriated funds necessary and appropriate to carry out these functions,
  • ensure that the database is made publicly accessible by the Copyright Office, in its entirety and  without charge, and in a format that reflects current technological practices, and that is updated on a real-time basis, and
  • limit the remedies available to a copyright owner or authorized party to bring an infringement action for violation of the exclusive right to perform publicly, reproduce or distribute a musical work or sound recording if that owner/ authorized party has failed to provide or maintain the minimum information required in the database.

On the downside, another measure would sweep pre-1972 song recordings into the federal copyright system. The legislation was authored by the chief House proponents for a Performance Tax, Reps. Darrell Issa, R-California, and Jerrold Nadler, D-New York. It’s called the Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society Act, a.k.a. the CLASSICS Act, and would apply to digital audio.

Learn more about both measures and other music licensing challenges like GMR at the State of Music Licensing legal panel at the TAB Show Aug. 9-10 featuring Janet McHugh of TVMLC, Bill Velez of RMLC, and attorney David Oxenford with Wilkinson Barker Knauer.


Performance Tax update

Back on the upside, the House resolution opposing a Performance Tax is just 12 co-sponsors away from reaching the majority of 218 needed to stop Nadler and Issa’s efforts. Texas leads the way to date with 22 co-sponsors of HConRes 13, the Local Radio Freedom Act, including last week’s renewal by Rep. Roger Williams, R-Weatherford.

Repack legislation, threat

Every possible question Radio and TV broadcasters might have about the spectrum repack will be covered in multiple sessions at the TAB Show (Prepping Your Tower, Wireless Mics, Intercoms & IFBs, Modulation Solutions and Navigating the Spectrum Repack), as will two new efforts that would alternately help and hurt broadcasters.

On the plus side of the equation, the House saw the introduction of legislation called the Viewer Protection Act which allocates an additional $1 billion to cover various costs related to the spectrum repack.

With Texas Congressman Gene Green, D-Houston, as one of the lead cosponsors, the bill attempts to ensure that full-power TV broadcasters, Radio stations, LPTV stations, TV translators and MVPDs are all covered for eligible repack expenses. The measure also requires the FCC to modify the 39-month repack timeline as needed and authorizes $90 million for consumer education relating to the repack.

But in a move that threatens to further complicate the repack, Microsoft has revived their TV White Space initiative which is an effort to secure free TV spectrum for a nationwide channel they want to use for unlicensed wireless “white space” devices. Their main selling point is a promise that their efforts would be a boon for rural broadband deployment, although the channel would be cleared in all markets, large and small alike.

If successful, the effort would push out still more broadcast TV translators and LPTV stations than already are at risk in a TV band that was greatly condensed by the recently completed spectrum auction.

Unlicensed white space devices already are permitted to operate on any available broadcast channel and channel 37. Following the spectrum repack, such devices also will be permitted to operate in a newly created duplex gap that separates the new mobile broadband services. Congress and the FCC also are actively considering other bands for use by these devices.

TAB already has engaged each Texas member of Congress over how Microsoft’s proposal would hurt their constituents and local TV and Radio stations alike, but the $540 billion company – which bid not a single dollar for spectrum in the auction – is a lobbying juggernaut that already has elicited the support of a handful of lawmakers and even some state governors.

Patrick McFadden, NAB’s associate general counsel and legal point man on repack issues, will address the Microsoft challenge at the TAB Show Aug. 9-10.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Oscar Rodriguez or call (512) 322-9944.

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