The issues surrounding copyrights can often be confusing, particularly for college radio stations (If you have any questions concerning webcasting, please feel free to contact us at 855-ASK-4CBI). This section of the CBI web site is not written by lawyers, rather by CBI volunteers who have been intimately involved with the process of establishing copyright rates and terms through negotiations and participation in the rate setting process.  With this in mind, we will attempt to offer a simple oversight of the issues with links to some of terms covered below.  This page is intended to give you the general information on the topics.  There are significant issues that are currently before the courts, congress and regulatory agencies.  The CBI main page, RSS feeds, tweets, and email lists will provide information concerning these developments and occasionally ask you to get involved in the process.

Let’s start with some basics.  When it comes to music and radio, whether over the air or the Internet, there are at least two copyrights that are of concern including, the musical work, and the sound recording.  For FCC licensed radio stations not streaming copyrighted music, the only rights involved currently are the musical works (compositions).  Three different organizations collect fees for the use of musical works by college stations (noncommercial radio stations which are licensed to accredited colleges, accredited universities, or other accredited nonprofit educational institutions and which are not affiliated with National Public Radio).  They are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (collectively called Performance Rights Organizations or PROs). The fees collected by these organizations are set via the Copyright Royalty Judges, (CRJs) also known as the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB). These fees are set through an arbitration process between affected parties.

Starting in 2013, the rates for ASCAP and BMI organizations rates are expected to be determined by a rate table that is in the final steps of approval.

Schedule of Rates for FCC licensed student radio stations as proposed.

Number of full-time students 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Level 5
<1,000
1,000–4,999
5,000–9,999
10,000–19,999
20,000 +
$319
369
505
655
822
$325
376
515
668
838
$332
384
525
681
855
$339
392
535
695
872
$345
399
546
708
890

Stations with an ERP of 100 watts or less will pay the level one fees regardless of enrollment.

SESAC rates were $140 in 2013 and then adjusted annually, starting in 2014, by the change in the Consumer Price Index or two percent, whichever is greater. That changed resulted in annual rate of $143 for 2014 and $146 for 2015.

Recordings of the musical work, or any other sound, involve another copyright, the sound recording. FCC licensed stations do not need to pay for the use of this right as it has been historically seen as a quid-pro-quo, or a use that returns at least equal value to the copyright owner. There is, however, a bill, the performance rights act, that proposes to require FCC licensed stations to pay for the use of sound recordings and places additional burdens on stations, including recordkeeping and content restrictions. When a station webcasts musical works and sound recordings, the station must pay for this use of the copyrighted material, whether or not the station holds an FCC license. There are additional burdens placed on the station as well. These burdens include the requirement to display information about the sound recording, to perform recordkeeping in order to submit reports of use and content restrictions, known as the sound recording performance complement.

Fortunately for college stations the cost associated with the use of musical works in streaming are covered under the institution’s blanket license with the PROs in almost all circumstances (except ASCAP). Unfortunately, the sound recording copyright fees are not. The organization that collects these fees is SoundExchange (“SX”).

It is important to note that the fee is a minimum fee per channel/station.  If the station exceeds 159,140 ATH (i.e. the station averages 218 concurrent listeners) in any month, the station is liable for additional royalties.

The other half of this is the fee is per channel/station. This does not mean that your station needs to pay additional fees if it streams in different formats such as Real Audio, Windows Media, QuickTime, MP3, Flash, etc. It does mean that if your station offers different music programming on different feeds (“side channels”) that it will need to pay the minimum fee for each feed.

Before we talk about the most recent development, let’s sum this up.

If your station is licensed by the FCC and not webcasting, your station only owes fees to ASCAP, SESAC and BMI.  In almost all circumstances, your institution is paying the BMI and SESAC fees, but not the ASCAP fees.  This means your station will likely need to pay according to the rate table above fees to ASCAP.  You will likely receive a mailing from BMI asking you to log the music played for 3 days.  While the regulations require that only a small number of stations complete this log each year, your schools license likely require you to complete these logs.

If your station is webcasting, then you need to pay SX the minimum fee of $500 per calendar year under the CRJ decision in addition to the fees owed to ASCAP.

Remember, the Sound Recording Performance Complement, recordkeeping, and display requirements apply to all webcasters who use music without a direct or creative commons type license.  While CBI is not aware of a single station that has been cited for not following these provisions of the law, it can not advise stations to ignore them.  Further the RIAA has been sending stations notices concerning the lack of compliance with respect to the display requirements.

At this point, we refer you to the 2014 CBI guide to webcasting for Educational Stations, which discusses your options.