1. What is the Television Music License Committee and what does it do?
We are a non-profit organization that helps all full-power, commercial television stations in the United States and its territories deal with the three U.S. performing rights organizations, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC (the PROs). We negotiate the music performing rights licenses that stations sign with ASCAP and BMI and design and administer the method of allocating industry-wide fees among all of the stations licensed by these two organizations (the vast majority of local television stations), subject to agreement of the PRO or court approval. After stations sign their license agreements, we try to help resolve problems between stations and the PROs when they arise. We are the stations’ advocate. When negotiation with a PRO is unsuccessful, we fund and manage legal proceedings on behalf of the local television industry, such as copyright “rate court” proceedings and private antitrust litigation.
2. How is the Committee funded?
Through voluntary station contributions.
3. How is the Committee structured?
The Committee is made up of volunteers from television stations and group broadcasters throughout the country (representatives of large and small market stations, affiliates and independents.) See the Committee page for more information on Committee members. There are three paid staff employees working out of New York and Washington, DC.
4. What does a music publisher do?
It used to be that a main function of a music publisher was to publish the sheet music of its members. In that way they were helping to promote their music. Now, though they still do that, they do much more. They own or administer the copyrights to their music (i.e., you would go to them for a synchronization, master use, or even a public performance license). They promote their music (e.g., trying to get radio stations to play music in their catalog) and protect composers (e.g., dealing with the PROs on their behalf).
5. What are music public performance rights?
One of the rights the copyright law grants to composers is the right to collect royalties for public performances of the music they create. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC license performance rights. For a television station, the public performance right means the right to broadcast music over the air in programming as well as in commercials and promotional and public service announcements. For a restaurant, the public performance right means the right to play music in the restaurant for the diners to hear. For a gym, it can mean the right to play music in the aerobics classes. In all of these instances, music is being performed for public consumption. For further information see the copyright basics page.
6. Doesn’t my network pay for that?
Yes and no. If you’re an ABC, CBS, NBC or Univision affiliate, your network has a network license with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC but that license only covers performances of music contained in the network shows. As one of those affiliates you still have plenty of programming that is not “network” and your licenses with the PROs cover performances of music in your “non-network” programming and announcements. Other networks, such as Fox, Ion, CW, MyNet or TBN, do not have network licenses from the PROs. For affiliates of these networks and for other independents, your licenses with the PROs cover all of your programming (even the network shows).
7. What do ASCAP, BMI and SESAC do?
These PROs represent music composers and publishers by licensing and collecting royalties from businesses that publicly perform, i.e., broadcast or play, the composers’ and publishers’ music. ASCAP, BMI and SESAC collect information about what music is being performed so they can pay composers and publishers some of the money that was paid to them by the businesses that performed their music. A composer can only be a member of one PRO at a time, but music publishers can have affiliates of two or all three PROs.
In short, the relationship is like this:
PRO licenses a business ——>
the business plays music and the business pays PRO ——>
PRO pays the composer/publisher for the music that was played by the business.
8. Why do I need to have licenses with the PROs?
U.S. copyright law entitles the owners of copyrights in musical compositions to control the public performance of their copyrighted music. When television stations broadcast programs containing copyrighted music, they are making public performances of the compositions and, subject to few exceptions, need a performing rights license. Producers of television programs and commercials usually do not pay for the music performance rights that stations need. Since most television programs and commercials contain copyrighted music from one or more of the PROs’ repertories, having a license with all three PROs provides protection from copyright infringement risks. If your station could license all of the music contained in its broadcasts directly from the copyright owners or through the suppliers of the programming and commercials, you would not need PRO licenses, but we are not aware of any station that attempts to license 100% of its music directly.
9. Why don’t I get performance rights when I buy the show from the syndicator or when I get the music from the music library?
When you contract with syndicators for their shows, they give you all of the rights needed to air the shows except for this one right. Why? Historically, composers have found it more profitable to license these rights through the PROs than to negotiate prices directly with producers. In addition, many producers benefit from the system insofar as they control the music publishing rights and receive royalty distributions from the PROs. Most music libraries are members of ASCAP, BMI and/or SESAC so that when you contract with them for their music, they are hoping to get money from you as well as their PRO. They are generally only granting you the synchronization rights (i.e., the right to mix or synchronize their music with your video) unless you purchase the performance rights, as well.
10. If I wanted to, could I license the performance right to the music in a show from someone other than a PRO?
Yes, if the music publisher is willing. The relationship between the PROs and their composers and publishers is a non-exclusive one. That means that the composers and publishers can license their performance rights directly to you. They don’t have to do this but they can. You just have to make sure to ask for these rights and be prepared to pay for them.
11. What is a blanket license?
A blanket license authorizes the licensee’s use of all of the works in the PRO’s repertory by the licensee during the license period. A blanket license protects you against claims of copyright infringement by any of the PRO’s affiliated publishers or composers for your performances the music in the PRO’s repertory. Historically, blanket license fees have been pre-determined, there has been no fee credit or “carve-out” to reflect any licenses you have obtained directly from publishers or composers or through program suppliers, and requirements to keep records and report your performances of music to the PRO have been minimal. In recent years, courts have determined that ASCAP and BMI are required to offer to music users blanket licenses with fees that reflect the user’s direct licensing activity. This form of blanket license has never been offered to the local television industry, but we have requested such licenses from ASCAP and BMI.
11A.What is a per program license?
A per program license gives a station the same copyright infringement protection they get from the blanket license, but the way the fees are calculated and the obligations to keep records of music use are different. Under a per program license, you pay a set fee for commercials and other “incidental and ambient” uses of music, but then only pay for programs that have the individual PRO’s music in it. Under a per program license, a station files detailed monthly reports with the PRO showing what programs it aired that month and which programs contained music from the PRO. If you “clear” (i.e., remove or get the rights directly from composers or publishers or through the supplier) enough of a PRO’s music from your programs, you should expect to pay lower total fees under a per program license than under a traditional blanket license.
12. Why would I ever want to license music performance rights directly from composers and publishers or through my program suppliers?
If you’re on a per program license with a PRO, or once we establish blanket licenses with ASCAP and BMI that afford a fee credit for direct licenses, then licensing the performance rights to music in some of your shows will enable you to reduce the fees paid to the PRO. In essence, for cleared music, you’re bypassing payment to the PRO by paying the composer directly or through his agent.
13. How is it determined how much I pay ASCAP, BMI and SESAC?
Industry-wide fees for ASCAP and BMI are negotiated by the Committee (or, if the parties are unable to agree, by a federal judge acting as a copyright “rate court”). The industry-wide fees then need to be allocated to individual stations. The Committee designs the method for allocating industry-wide fees for ASCAP and BMI (determined either through agreement with each of them or by the rate court) and then performs the calculation of fees. This methodology (approved by the rate court), in short, takes the industry-wide fee and allocates money to each market based on Nielsen DMA size. Within each market the money is then divided up among the stations based on a 3-year average of ratings. Each year a new allocation is calculated for both ASCAP and BMI that drops the oldest set of ratings books and adds the newest set of ratings books. If either your market size or your share of audience within your market increases, your fees could increase.
In 2005, the ASCAP industry fee was $85 million and from 2006-2009, that fee changed by CPI with a cap at a 3% increase. The current contract with ASCAP ends December 31, 2009. There is an agreement in principle with ASCAP for 2010 to extend the terms of the current contract and its industry fee determination on an interim basis, subject to retroactive adjustment when the parties reach agreement or obtain a determination from the rate court. CPI decreased from 2008 to 2009, so, on an interim basis, 2010 industry-wide fees for ASCAP were reduced by 1.5% to $93,318,340.
The last final contract the industry had with BMI ended Dec. 31, 2004 and the industry fee was $85 million. Since then, we have been negotiating with BMI for a new contract and each year the interim industry fee has been $85 million. Absent a new agreement with BMI or litigation over interim fees, the same will be true for 2010.
In January 2006, we were in arbitration with SESAC covering the period 2005-2007. As part of that proceeding, SESAC industry fees for that period were allocated based on ratings and music use. We were unable to come to an industry-wide agreement with SESAC for 2008 and beyond and SESAC sent out their own contracts to stations in which SESAC had its own way of determining station fees. On November 4, 2009 an antitrust class action lawsuit was filed by a group of broadcasters against SESAC claiming that SESAC had illegally overcharged stations for years beginning in 2008. TMLC is providing financial support for that suit.
14. How can I budget for the future?
For ASCAP and BMI, there are two ways to estimate your interim fees for 2010:
1 – Look at your ratings and market size. If they increased the past year, then your fees will increase and if they decreased, then your fees will decrease.
And 2 – Call us and we will help you with your budgeting.
For SESAC, all stations should already know what they contracted to pay SESAC for 2010.
15. What if I am streaming or want to stream my local programming on my station’s website, is the music in those streamed programs covered by my ASCAP, BMI and SESAC licenses?
The interim licenses we have from ASCAP and BMI authorize stations to use ASCAP and BMI music in the local programming streamed on your website. The final fees for such performances have not been determined and may include additional retroactive payments when those fees are set. SESAC offers a web site license to local stations. That license was not negotiated with or approved by the Committee.
16. What about my station’s digital television (DTV) signal — is that covered by my licenses with the PROs?
The digital signals of your primary channel and any multicast channels (other than those offered on a subscription/paid basis) are covered by your interim licenses with ASCAP and BMI. The final fees for performances of music on digital channels has not yet been determined and may include additional retroactive payments (back to January 1, 2010 for ASCAP and back to January 1, 2005 for BMI) when those fees are set. It is our understanding that SESAC offers licenses to local stations that cover your primary channel and your digital multicasting activities. Those licenses were not negotiated with or approved by the Committee so we do not know any of the specific terms.
17. How can my station get involved with the Television Music License Committee?
Give us a call!!!