Internet & Online Category

Second Online Captioning Deadline Arrives March 30

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted March 25, 2013

By Paul A. Cicelski

As we have discussed at great length in the past, the FCC's rules require that certain video programming delivered online be captioned if the programming previously aired on television with captions. The rules kicked in on April 30 of last year, and all video programming that appeared on television with captions after that date is considered "covered Internet Protocol (IP) video" and will ultimately need to be captioned when being shown online.

The first step of the captioning phase-in occurred on September 30, 2012. Since that date, stations have been required to display captioning for prerecorded full-length programming delivered via IP if the programming was first aired on television with captions on or after the April 30 date noted above.

The second phase of the FCC's IP captioning rules begins March 30, 2013 (a Saturday), at which time the FCC's IP captioning rules require all live and near-live programming subject to the rules and shown on television with captions to be captioned when delivered online. The FCC's definition of "live" or "near-live" captures all programming performed simultaneously or recorded within 24 hours of its first transmission to a video programming distributor. Note that as long as they do not constitute "substantially all" of a full-length program, online video clips are currently exempt from the IP captioning rules.

As a result, the question we probably receive most often from clients about online captioning is: what exactly does the FCC mean by "substantially all" of a full-length program? It's a good question that lacks a precise answer. The FCC intentionally decided not to provide a specific threshold for the length or number of clips aired that would constitute "substantially all" of a program. According to the FCC, it did not see "any evidence that Congress sought to exclude only clips of a certain duration or percentage of the full-length program."

Parties should keep in mind, however, that the FCC will not allow them to game the system by simply "shaving" off a few minutes or brief segments of a full length program in order to avoid the IP captioning obligation. The FCC emphasized that "if there is clear evidence that an entity has developed a pattern of attempting to use video clips to evade its captioning obligations," the FCC may find that a rule violation has occurred.

There is of course more to come. The captioning requirements for "full length" and "live or near-live" programming are just the beginning of the new IP captioning obligations being implemented in the near future. The next deadline is coming up soon with the September 30, 2013 requirement that all pre-recorded programming that is edited for Internet distribution be captioned for online viewing. Also, don't forget there are separate captioning compliance deadlines for captioning of IP video programming that previously aired on television prior to the effective date of the rules, but that is shown again on television with captions after the effective date. Those phased-in captioning requirements are scheduled to take place between March 2014 and March 2016, with progressively shorter periods to caption the programming for IP video after it airs on television with captions.

As was the case with the original broadcast captioning rules, each phase-in "deadline" shrinks the amount of programming exempt from the online captioning requirement while requiring the distributor to tackle ever more complex captioning issues. IP captioning will therefore consume a growing portion of the attention of those posting broadcast video online. The big difference is that broadcast captioning was phased in over eight years (twelve years for Spanish language programming), whereas online captioning is being phased in on a much faster schedule.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form Due

Posted March 17, 2013

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending January 31, 2013.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Usage Statement of Account Form and Quarterly Report of Use Form Due

Posted February 14, 2013

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must by this date submit the Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms to SoundExchange for the month ending December 31, 2012.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Annual Minimum Fee Statement of Account Form Due

Posted January 31, 2013

By this date, most commercial and noncommercial webcasters and those simulcasting radio programming over the Internet must submit the Minimum Fee Statement of Account Form and the annual $500 copyright royalty fee to SoundExchange. January 31 is also the date by which certain webcasters and simulcasters are eligible to make elections affecting their royalty rates and reporting requirements for the upcoming year. If your radio broadcast station is simulcast or rebroadcast over the Internet, we encourage you to consult qualified counsel with regard to your obligations.

Copyright Royalty Fee: Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account Forms Due

Posted January 14, 2013

Commercial and noncommercial webcasters and online simulcasters must file Monthly Report of Use and Monthly Usage Statement of Account forms for the month ending November 30, 2012.

FCC Provides Clarity for Businesses Responding to Texting Opt-Outs

Lauren Lynch Flick Andrew D. Bluth

Posted December 3, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Andrew D. Bluth

Resolving a conundrum faced by every business that has entered the world of consumer texting, the FCC has ruled that businesses are not violating the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act ("TCPA") by sending a confirmation text to consumers who have just opted out of receiving further texts. However, the FCC did impose limitations on the content of such confirmation texts to ensure compliance with the TCPA. The threshold requirement is that the purpose of the reply text be solely to confirm to the consumer that the opt-out request has been received and will be acted on. The FCC then enumerated several additional requirements that businesses must observe when sending confirmation texts to avoid violating the TCPA. For those affected, which is pretty much every business that uses texts to communicate with the public, we have released a Client Alert on the subject.

To many, sending a confirmation text to a consumer who has previously opted in to receiving a company's text messages would appear to be nothing more than good customer service and an extension of the common practice of sending a confirmatory email message when a consumer has chosen to unsubscribe from an email list. Indeed, many wireless carriers and mobile marketing and retail trade associations have adopted codes of conduct for mobile marketers that include sending confirmation texts to consumers opting out of future text messages.

However, the TCPA, among other things, makes it illegal to make a non-emergency "call" to a mobile telephone using an automatic telephone dialing system or recorded voice without the prior express consent of the recipient. The FCC's rules and a decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit define a "call" as including text messages. As a result, many businesses have had class action lawsuits filed against them by consumers arguing that, once they send a text message opting out of receiving future texts, their prior consent has been revoked, and the business violates the TCPA by sending ANY further texts, even in reply to the consumer's opt-out text.

Seeking to avoid facing such lawsuits and the potential for conflicting decisions from different courts, businesses sought the FCC's intervention. After reviewing the issue, the FCC rejected the fundamental argument raised by the class action suits, noting that the FCC has never received a single complaint from a consumer about receiving a confirmatory text message. The FCC did note, however, that it had received complaints from consumers about not receiving a confirmation of their opt-out request. The Commission therefore held that when consumers consent to receiving text messages from a business, that consent includes their consent to receiving a text message confirming any later decision to opt out of receiving further text messages.

To avoid creating a loophole in the TCPA that might be exploited by a business, the FCC proceeded to set limits on confirmation texts designed to ensure that they are not really marketing messages disguised as confirmation texts. First and foremost, the implied permission to send a confirmation text message only applies where the consumer has consented to receiving the company's text messages in the first place. Next, the confirmation text message must be sent within five minutes of receiving the consumer's opt-out request, or the company will have to prove that a longer period of time to respond was reasonable in the circumstances. Finally, the text of the message must be truly confirmatory of the opt-out and not contain additional marketing or an effort to dissuade the consumer from opting out of future texts. You can read more about the FCC's decision and these specific requirements in the firm's Client Alert.

By providing clarity on the relationship between confirmation texts and the TCPA, the FCC's ruling provides marketers and other businesses with some welcome protection from class action TCPA suits. In an accompanying statement, Commissioner Ajit Pai stated that "Hopefully, by making clear that the Act does not prohibit confirmation texts, we will end the litigation that has punished some companies for doing the right thing, as well as the threat of litigation that has deterred others from adopting a sound marketing practice." Businesses just need to make sure they comply with the FCC's stated requirements for confirmation texts to avail themselves of these protections.

Does Your Mobile App Provide Reasonable Access to Your Privacy Policy?

Lauren Lynch Flick Amy L. Pierce

Posted November 19, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Amy L. Pierce

The privacy practices of mobile applications ("Apps") have been under scrutiny from a wide variety of domestic and foreign regulatory authorities of late. Most recently, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued a press release regarding a new enforcement effort aimed at bringing mobile Apps into compliance with California's Online Privacy Protection Act ("CalOPPA" or "Act").

CalOPPA applies to any online service that collects personally identifiable information through the Internet about a Califorina resident who uses or visits the online service. In other words -- the Act appears to apply to the entire world wide web. And now that includes any mobile App that uses the Internet to collect personally identifiable information.

On October 30, 2012, the California Attorney General sent a series of letters to mobile App operators reminding them that CalOPPA requires that they conspicuously post a privacy policy that complies with specified requirements. She stressed that the privacy policy must be "reasonably accessible ... for consumers of the online service."

The Attorney General did not dictate how Apps could comply with the posting requirement. However, she did state that having a website with the applicable privacy policy conspicuously posted may be adequate, but only if a link to that website is "reasonably accessible" to the user within the App. She also warned that, under California's unfair competition law, violations of CalOPPA may result in penalties of up to $2,500 for each violation. In the context of a mobile App, each copy of the unlawful App downloaded by California consumers would constitute a separate violation.

The California Attorney General's action is another step towards requiring mobile Apps to provide consumers with the same sorts of privacy protections as they have come to expect when surfing the Web at home or work. What industry and regulators continue to struggle with is doing so in the unique environment of mobile devices.

Click here for a copy of California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris' press release and a sample non-compliance letter.

Drawing the Line Online: Employers' Rights to Employees' Social Media Accounts

Julia E. Judish Thomas N. Makris Amy L. Pierce James G. Gatto

Posted October 17, 2012

By Julia E. Judish, Thomas N. Makris, Amy L. Pierce and James G. Gatto

With the unprecedented popularity of social media, employees have increasingly used LinkedIn and other online forums to network for business and social purposes. When the line between personal and business use is blurred, litigation may ensue. A federal court recently ruled that an employer did not violate federal computer hacking laws by accessing and altering its recently departed CEO's LinkedIn account, but that the former CEO could proceed to trial on her state law misappropriation claim. In addition, California, Illinois, and Massachusetts recently joined Maryland in enacting laws prohibiting the practice of requesting access to prospective employees' password-protected social media accounts.

In Eagle v. Morgan, et al., Linda Eagle, former CEO of Edcomm, Inc. ("Edcomm"), filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania alleging that Edcomm hijacked her LinkedIn social media account after she was terminated. While Eagle was CEO of Edcomm, she established a LinkedIn account that she used to promote Edcomm's banking education services, to foster her reputation as a businesswoman, to reconnect with family, friends and colleagues, and to build social and professional relationships. Edcomm employees assisted Eagle in maintaining her LinkedIn account and had access to her password. Edcomm encouraged all employees to participate in LinkedIn and contended that when an employee left the company, Edcomm would effectively "own" the LinkedIn account and could "mine" the information and incoming traffic.

After Eagle was terminated, Edcomm, using Eagle's LinkedIn password, accessed her account and changed the password so that Eagle could no longer access the account, and then changed the account profile to display Eagle's successor's name and photograph, although Eagle's honors and awards, recommendations, and connections were not deleted. Eagle contended that Edcomm's actions violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act ("CFAA"), Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, and numerous state and common laws. In an October 4, 2012 ruling on the company's summary judgment motion, U.S. District Judge Ronald L. Buckwalter dismissed Eagle's CFAA and Lanham Act claims against Edcomm but held that Eagle had the right to a trial on whether Edcomm had violated state misappropriation law and other state laws.

The Eagle case is just one example of how the absence of a clear and carefully drafted social media policy can lead to protracted and expensive litigation. This area of law appears to be garnering increasing attention on the legislative front as well as the judicial front, as three more states recently enacted laws prohibiting employers from requiring, or in some cases even requesting, access to prospective employees' social media accounts. The attached chart includes more detail about the California, Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland laws and the provisions of similar legislation pending in the various states and in the U.S. Congress.

A common theme connects the Eagle case with the recent password access legislation: the importance of defining the lines of ownership and demarcating the boundary between the professional and the personal. If Edcomm, for example, had established a LinkedIn account for its CEO's use and had asserted its property interest in the account at the outset of the employment relationship, Edcomm's CEO would have had no reasonable expectation of ownership in it. Under that scenario, Edcomm likely would not be facing trial on a misappropriation claim. Similarly, the social media password legislation definitively declares that employers and prospective employers have no right to access the social media accounts that applicants and employees have established for their personal use.

In addition, as explained in our recent Client Alert on enforcement actions under the National Labor Relations Act in connection with employer discipline of employees for social media postings, employer responses to employee use of social media can also result in government agency action against employers. These developments all point to the same message: employers wishing to avoid legal risk should be proactive in implementing well-defined policies and procedures relating to the LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking and media accounts of prospective, current and former employees, including clearly identifying rights to those accounts when the employee leaves the company.

A PDF version of this article can be found here, which includes a chart summarizing State and Federal Social Media Bills.

To read prior Client Alerts related to this subject, click on the links below:

Client Alert, First NLRB Decisions on Social Media Give Employers Cause to Update Policies, Practices

Client Alert, Employ Me, Don't Friend Me: Privacy in the Age of Facebook

First Online Video Closed Captioning Deadline Is Here

Paul A. Cicelski

Posted September 26, 2012

By Paul A. Cicelski

The first compliance deadline for the FCC's new rules for the closed captioning of video programming delivered via Internet protocol (i.e., IP video), as required by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), is September 30, 2012. April 30, 2012 was the effective date of the new rules and all video programming that appeared on television with captions after that date is considered "covered IP video" and will need to be captioned when being shown online in the future. "Video programming" is defined as "programming by, or generally considered comparable to programming provided by a television broadcast station."

Last January, the FCC released its Order adopting rules to implement the CVAA's requirements governing the closed captioning of IP video. The CVAA requires that all nonexempt full-length video programming delivered over the Internet that first appeared on TV in the United States with captions also be captioned online. According to the rules, video programming shown on the Internet after being shown on television must have captions based on the following timeline established by the FCC:

  • September 30, 2012: all pre-recorded programming not edited for Internet distribution must be captioned for online viewing. Pre-recorded programming is defined as programming other than live or near-live programming.
  • March 30, 2013: all live and near-live programming must be captioned for online viewing. Live programming is defined as programming that airs on TV "substantially simultaneously" with its performance (i.e., news and sporting events). Near-live programming is video programming that is performed and recorded less than 24 hours prior to the first time it aired on television (i.e., the "Late Show with David Letterman").
  • September 30, 2013: all pre-recorded programming that is edited for Internet distribution must be captioned for online viewing. Programming edited for Internet distribution means video programming for which the TV version is "substantially edited" prior to its Internet distribution.

Keep in mind that there is a different compliance schedule for all programming that is subject to the new requirements but which is already archived in a video programming distributor's or provider's library before it is shown on television with captions. Such programming is subject to the following deadlines:

  • Beginning March 30, 2014, all programming that is subject to the new requirements and is already in the distributor's or provider's library before it is shown on television with captions must be captioned within 45 days after it is shown on television with captions.
  • Beginning March 30, 2015, such programming must be captioned within 30 days after it is shown on television with captions.
  • Beginning March 30, 2016, such programming must be captioned within 15 days after it is shown on television with captions.
Clients frequently ask whether the new rules apply to clips, video-clips, or outtakes. Generally, the answer is no. The FCC's Order defines clips as "excerpts of full-length programming." According to the FCC, the rules apply to "full-length video programming" defined as "video programming that appears on television and is distributed to end users, substantially in its entirety, via IP." This definition therefore excludes video clips or outtakes from video programming that appeared on television. However, keep in mind that the FCC also indicated that when "substantially all" of a full-length program is available via IP, whether as a single unit or in multiple segments, that program is not considered a clip and does constitute a full-length program subject to the IP captioning rules.

Those interested in learning more about these issues should contact us.

I Know What You Watched Last Summer - Video Privacy Protection Act Creates Risks for All Video Programming Distributors

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted May 15, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick

There has been a recent uptick in class action lawsuits against video programming distributors under the Video Privacy Protection Act. The VPPA was enacted in 1988 in response to the disclosure of the video tape rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork during his confirmation hearings. Reflecting the era of its passage, the law refers to information regarding "video cassette tapes", but is much broader, requiring those who are involved in renting, selling or distributing "prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials" to discard consumer information after a period of time (generally one year) and to get consumers' consent before disclosing information about an individual's viewing habits.

In this day and age of apps that share the songs individuals listen to and the newspaper articles they read, the VPPA has been cited as a major impediment to similar online sharing regarding video downloads and rentals. Congress has considered legislation that would amend the VPPA to permit social media sharing of an individual's video viewing without requiring that individual's consent on a title by title basis. While it may seem an anachronism to those accustomed to rampant social sharing, the VPPA's requirements, and those of similar state privacy laws, apply to far more than just local video rental stores.

The attached Client Alert discusses a recent California case in which an individual brought a class action lawsuit against Sony. The suit claimed that Sony had retained the history of customers' PlayStation Network movie and video game purchases and rentals, and that it disclosed such information to the new owner of the PlayStation Network when the network was transferred, and that the new owner then disclosed that information to advertisers.

As a review of the Client Alert reveals, any video on demand provider, whether cable, satellite, or online, needs to be knowledgeable of the requirements of the VPPA. The VPPA provides an avenue for individuals to bring class actions on behalf of thousands of affected customers, and to seek actual, liquidated, and/or punitive damages for the violation, as well as legal fees. Because of this, the financial stakes can be quite high for what might be an entirely unintentional violation of consumers' privacy.

FCC's Motive for Demanding Copies of TV Station Public Files Confirmed

Scott R. Flick

Posted April 10, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

Late last month I wrote about a strange occurrence at a number of TV stations that were visited by FCC inspectors demanding that the station make a copy of its entire public inspection file in 24-48 hours and provide that copy to the FCC.

I commented at the time that this highly unusual event was more likely connected to the FCC's pending proceeding to move the public inspection file online than to any enforcement action, noting that "while this would seem bizarre any place outside of Washington (well, it's bizarre here too, but you get used to that after a while), the FCC has been on the receiving end of numerous comments and declarations from broadcasters noting how large the public inspection file has become, and how burdensome and time-consuming it would be to require stations to scan the entire contents of it for the sake of posting it online." It therefore seemed likely that the FCC was not so much interested in the substance of each station's public file as in determining the sheer size of those files. Regardless, stations with the misfortune of being on the receiving end of these requests had to absorb the overtime and copying costs involved to comply.

Since that time, the FCC has scheduled a vote at its April 27 meeting to require that the public file, including the political file portion of it, be posted online. The timing of the planned vote is not a good sign for broadcasters, as it is a long-standing FCC tradition to schedule votes on orders that are favorable to broadcasters so that they can be released just before the NAB Show, ensuring that FCC commissioners speaking at the NAB Show will receive a warm reception. Conversely, FCC orders that broadcasters are not going to be happy about tend to be delayed until after the NAB Show concludes. With the FCC's scheduled vote coming the week after the NAB Show, it should surprise no one that the FCC appears ready to adopt an order requiring that public files (including the political file) be moved online.

On the good news side, the FCC appears to be dropping its proposals to require that certain inter-station agreements and sponsorship identification lists be added to the file, either because broadcasters' complaints about those proposals were heard, or because the FCC saw them as unnecessary judicial baggage in an order that it would like to see implemented quickly.

Returning, however, to the mystery of why the FCC was demanding copies of stations' public files, the last document placed in the FCC's record in the online public file proceeding this past Friday (just before the holiday weekend) is illuminating. It is a one-page "Submission for the Record" from the Media Bureau noting that "[t]he Commission requested a copy of the public file from all broadcast stations in the Baltimore DMA in March of 2012, received the documents either on paper or electronically, and subsequently reviewed each file, counting the total number of pages in the following categories...." The Submission then notes the total number of pages in each file (with the award for the largest file going to WJZ-TV, at 8,222 pages), and breaks out the number of pages in the categories of Political File, letters/emails from the public, documents currently available online at the FCC, and documents the FCC found extraneous to the file. This certainly appears to confirm that the FCC's goal in demanding that stations rapidly provide a copy of their entire public file was merely to determine the quantity, and not the quality, of those files. By placing that information in the public record, the FCC can now rely on it in its decision to implement an online public file requirement (although how it supports that result is still unclear).

While one can question the burden placed on individual stations merely to determine the number of pages in a public inspection file (which is information that is already in the record, having been submitted in numerous broadcasters' comments), once that information has been gathered, it is fair for the FCC to make use of it by placing it in the record. What is curious, however, is the effort the FCC appears to have expended to do so as quietly as possible. In addition to it being dropped into the record right before the holiday weekend, the Submission itself is an unusual document. It is not on letterhead, it is not dated, and it is not signed. If it were not for the fact that the FCC's filing system indicates it was submitted by the Media Bureau, you might well wonder where it came from. There may, however, be a reason for this.

When the FCC moved its public comment system online, the FCC and communications lawyers quickly found that the number of one-page submissions from the public stating a position but providing no supporting rationale exploded exponentially. The result was that it became difficult to locate the more substantive comments filed in a proceeding, as they were lost among hundreds or thousands of short "me too" submissions. To the FCC's eternal credit, it modified its comment search filter so that you can exclude "Brief Comments" from your search, allowing you to focus on the more substantial comments filed. Parties actively following a proceeding therefore tend to use this option and exclude "Brief Comments" when checking the record.

By eliminating all extraneous information, the FCC was able to keep its Submission down to one page in length, and as it turns out, the system's definition of a Brief Comment is one that is one page long, meaning that those using the search filter will not see it. That may well be nothing more than a coincidence, but it would at least explain the unusually brief and cryptic nature of the FCC's Submission. But if that is the case, we have just traded one mystery for another--having gone to such lengths to gather this information, why is the FCC being so shy about having found it?

Scott Flick of Pillsbury to Speak at the American Cable Association Summit Retransmission Consent Panel, on March 14, 2012

Posted March 14, 2012

Scott R. Flick will speak during this session which takes place on March 14th from 1:45 pm to 3:00 pm at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, DC.

This panel will address more than 300 independent, small to mid-sized communication providers and vendors serving rural America with cable and IP video and VOIP phone, and broadband internet service.

For more information, contact Rob Shema, 412-889-1657

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury to Speak on "Playing by the Rules: A Broadcaster's Guide to Contests and Sweepstakes," February 29, 2012

Posted February 29, 2012

Scott R. Flick and Lauren Lynch Flick of Pillsbury will review the FCC rules governing on-air contests and sweepstakes during this Executive Briefing Webinar presented by Texas Association of Broadcasters on February 29th from 2-3:30 pm Central Time. Learn the best practices and pitfalls when it comes to airing contests on your station and why to be wary of "boiler plate" contest rules.

Click here for more information and to register for this FREE informative session.

Client Advisory - Reminder: Annual Minimum Fee Statements for Streaming Due to SoundExchange by January 31, 2012

Lauren Lynch Flick

Posted January 27, 2012

By Lauren Lynch Flick and Lauren A. Birzon

Certain stations must also file proxy paperwork and additional fee to avoid usage reporting for the year.

As January comes to a close, don't forget that annual minimum copyright royalty fees for webcasting and internet simulcasting of radio programming, along with the corresponding forms, are due to SoundExchange by January 31, 2012.

With the exception of certain eligible noncommercial broadcasters (those that are affiliated with NPR, APM, PRI or certain other organizations and have timely elected the rates and terms negotiated with SoundExchange by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), commercial and noncommercial webcasters and broadcasters streaming content on the Internet must submit the appropriate Annual Minimum Fee Statement of Account, along with a minimum fee payment of $500.00 per stream. For webcasters with multiple streams, the total fee is capped at $50,000.00.

January 31st is also the deadline for certain filers to elect "proxy" reporting, which allows the streamer to pay an additional $100 fee and avoid having to submit regular reports of use to SoundExchange during 2012. This option is only available to certain categories of streamers. "Small Broadcasters" (broadcasters with fewer than 27,777 aggregate tuning hours in 2011), "Noncommercial Educational Webcasters" (noncommercial educational webcasters with fewer than 55,000 monthly aggregate tuning hours in 2011) and "Noncommercial Microcasters" (noncommercial webcasters other than educational webcasters with fewer than 44,000 aggregate tuning hours in 2011) may choose this exemption by filing the appropriate Notice of Election and a $100.00 fee by January 31st, 2012. Certain other filers that are not eligible for a reporting waiver must still file the Notice of Election to elect an alternative to the standard Copyright Royalty Board rates.

Annual Minimum Fee Statements of Account, Notices of Election, and payments should be sent to SoundExchange, Inc., 1121 Fourteenth Street, NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005, Attn: Royalty Administration.

A PDF version of this article can be found at Reminder: Annual Minimum Fee Statements for Streaming Due to SoundExchange by January 31, 2012.

FCC Makes Online Contest Expensive

Scott R. Flick

Posted January 20, 2012

By Scott R. Flick

One of the curiosities of communications law is that while there are thousands of applicable rules and statutory provisions, there are a handful that the FCC likes to enforce with particular gusto. One of these is the rule regarding how on-air contests must be conducted. Over the years, many broadcasters have found this to be a "strict liability" rule, with any problem that occurs in an on-air contest being laid at the feet of the broadcaster along with the standard $4,000 fine. As a result, despite the myriad state laws governing the conduct of contests, broadcast contests tend to be some of the more carefully conducted contests out there.

The rule itself, Section 73.1216, is one of the most concise of the FCC's rules, being only two sentences long: "A licensee that broadcasts or advertises information about a contest it conducts shall fully and accurately disclose the material terms of the contest, and shall conduct the contest substantially as announced or advertised. No contest description shall be false, misleading or deceptive with respect to any material term." Significantly longer than the rule itself, however, are the three footnotes to the rule, which provide details about what must be disclosed and how. The key requirements are that the "material terms" of the contest be disclosed on-air through "a reasonable number of announcements". The typical basis for a $4,000 contest fine is that the station either fails to adequately disclose the material terms of the contest, or fails to comply with those terms in running the contest (for example, failing to award the stated prize).

What has changed since the current rule was adopted in 1976, however, is that stations increasingly have a station website with much content that is independent of their broadcast content, including online contests. While a station and its website will obviously cross-promote each other, neither is a substitute for the other, and each is a separate channel of communication with the public. As a general rule, the FCC has no jurisdiction over websites, and has not attempted to regulate contests that are not conducted on-air. While online contests are subject to numerous state and federal law requirements, they are not normally the subject of FCC proceedings.

Yesterday, however, the FCC released a decision proposing to fine a number of Clear Channel radio stations $22,000 for contest rule violations relating to a car contest conducted on the stations' websites. Both the size of the fine and the fact that it does not relate to a true on-air contest make it a noteworthy decision. In the contest, listeners were invited to submit video commercials for Chevrolet (keep in mind the stations fined were radio stations), with the contestant submitting the best commercial winning a car. The FCC received a complaint from a listener who argued that the stations involved in the contest failed to disclose the material terms of the contest on-air, failed to conduct the contest in accordance with the stated rules, and improperly awarded the prize to a friend of an employee.

While the FCC declined to find that the contest was "fixed" merely because the winner was a friend of a station employee, it did find that the stations failed to disclose the material terms of the contest on-air, and that the stations failed to conduct the contest in accordance with the rules in any event, principally because the rules were internally inconsistent. One provision in the rules stated that entries would be accepted through March 21, 2008, but another provision stated that judges would select a winner on March 10, 2008, before the stated deadline for entries had passed.

In its defense, Clear Channel argued that the FCC's rule doesn't apply, since the contest was conducted on the stations' websites, and was not a broadcast contest. In addition, it noted that the contest rules were posted on the station websites where the contest was being conducted. The FCC rejected this argument, stating that the stations had promoted the contest on-air, and that this cross-promotion made the contest a broadcast contest subject to the FCC's rule. Interestingly, it does not appear from the FCC's order that Clear Channel made the arguments that: (1) stations promote advertisers' contests all of the time and the mere fact that a contest is promoted on-air does not extend the FCC's jurisdiction to the conduct of those contests, and (2) there isn't any reason from a First Amendment standpoint for requiring a different level of disclosure from a broadcaster than any other party choosing to promote its online contest on-air.

Having concluded that its contest rule applied, the FCC found that the stations violated that rule when they failed to air announcements disclosing the material terms of the contest rules, and that they also violated the rule by failing to accurately state the deadline for entries, creating confusion among listeners. Noting that the contest was promoted on multiple stations, that Clear Channel has previously been found in violation of the contest rule on multiple occasions, and that Clear Channel has "substantial revenues", the FCC increased the base fine of $4000 to $22,000, an unusually high amount for a contest rule violation.

So what should broadcasters take away from this decision? First, that any on-air promotion of a contest makes it a "broadcast contest" unless the contest is conducted by a third party. In this regard, stations will want to be careful about co-sponsoring an advertiser's contest, since an advertised contest that otherwise fully complies with all state and federal laws can suddenly cause a problem if the FCC concludes that it is a licensee-conducted contest.

Second, and this part is nothing new, stations and others conducting contests need to make sure that the contest rules are carefully written, consistent with law, and not confusing to potential contestants. Surprising as it is, major companies holding national contests frequently fail to accomplish this successfully, and the lawyers in our Contests & Sweepstakes practice are regularly called upon to draft or revise contest rules to avoid this problem. Given yesterday's FCC decision, broadcasters have one more reason than everyone else to make sure that their contests, online or otherwise, are carefully conducted to comply with the law.