SoundExchange FAQs

On May 28, 2009, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) announced its selection of Public Interactive (now known as NPR Digital Services, NPR/DS) to serve as the single collection point for reports which will be consolidated and sent to SoundExchange to ensure that performers and sound recording copyright owners are accurately paid for the use of their recordings.

Read the full press release here

This reporting is part of an agreement reached earlier that year between CPB and SoundExhange which defines terms, conditions and reporting for internet performance royalties to artists and copyright owners by non-commercial educational public radio organizations through 2010, and since extended through 2015. It covers approximately 450 public radio webcasters including CPB supported stations, NPR, NPR member stations, National Federation of Community Broadcasters members, American Public Media (APM), Public Radio Exchange (PRX) and Public Radio International (PRI).

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: CPB has just released a joint statement with SoundExchange announcing that an agreement has been reached on royalty payments and recordkeeping requirements for public radio stations that webcast sound recordings. Who is covered and what are the terms?

A: The agreement covers all CPB-supported stations, other noncommercial stations that are members or affiliates of National Public Radio, American Public Media, Public Radio International, Public Radio Exchange or the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and NPR, APM, PRI, and PRX themselves. Transmissions of sound recordings over the internet by these entities are covered from January 1, 2005 through December 31, 2010, when this agreement expires.

The agreement between SoundExchange and CPB supplants the May 2007 decision of the Copyright Royalty Board and establishes flat rate reporting requirements that are appropriate to public radio’s non-commercial, public service status. A lump-sum payment from CPB to SoundExchange will fully satisfy the webcasting royalty obligations of all the entities above for the covered period.

The agreement also requires all covered entities to implement a comprehensive reporting system, which is discussed in more detail below.

Public radio stations and other entities currently streaming sound recordings may continue and, in fact, are encouraged to continue this important expression of our public service mission. Stations may offer a single stream or multiple streams, a decision determined by the station to meet the needs of its community and audience(s).

Q: Does this concern my station?

A: Every public radio that webcasts real-time streams of its live broadcast, HD channels, or side-channels, must report the music it webcasts or streams, as well as how many people listened to each song (Music ATH). Every public radio station that wants to take advantage of the CPB negotiated agreement must comply with usage reporting requirements.

If you registered your station for Internet Music Rights coverage with CPB before January 29, 2009, you must re-register.

Q: How do I register my station for Internet Music Rights Coverage?

A: Follow this link on the CPB website to register.

Once you’ve registered with the CPB you will receive an email from them with a login to a web site to review and accept the terms of the SPB-SX agreement. You must accept the agreement in order to be a covered entity! NPR/DS can not submit reports on your behalf to SX until your station accepts the agreement!

I’ve registered on the CPB website and accepted the agreement. Now what?

Sign up with NPR/DS using this form.

In order to get started, we’ll need to gather some information about you and verify that you’ve registered with CPB. The NPR/DS Sound Exchange Project Manager will contact you directly to ask for data samples.

Public Radio stations use a variety of playlisting tools, streaming vendors, and reporting services. NPR/DS will be augmenting our existing tools, including NPR/DS Composer, to help make the reporting process as painless as possible for your station. Due to the variety of vendors (both commercial and home-grown) we will be working with stations individually to understand the systems you have in place and walk you through the reporting process.

Q: Why was this negotiated agreement necessary?

A: The May 2007 decision of the Copyright Royalty Board simply was inadequate in recognizing public radio’s unique non-for-profit status and its historic community, public service mission. Its requirements for station webcasting had punitive consequences for public radio entities that succeeded in their community mission by attracting large audiences, or that experimented with multiple side channels.

SoundExchange acknowledged these differences between commercial and noncommercial entities and moved forward with an agreement that enables public radio webcasters to continue to meet their public service and non-profit missions.

Q: How is this agreement similar to and different from previous agreements that covered public radio entities?

A: First the similarities – This agreement preserves public radio’s community and public service mission and our status as independent, non-profit entities. CPB continues to be the source of royalty payments on behalf of covered public radio entities. And the CPB payment is made on behalf of all covered entities that choose to accept this agreement. Any covered entity that chooses to be covered by this agreement need not make any additional royalty payments during the entire term, so there are no back liabilities for anyone who elects to be covered by this agreement. CPB’s negotiating and payment role are important because it preserves the cohesive and system character of public radio.

The license is also subject to the same limitations on the number of selections from the same sound recording that can be played in a three (3) hour period, and the number of selections by the same featured artist or from a set or compilation of recordings that can be played in a three hour period ( the Sound Recording Performance Complement, which you can download here).  For a single sound recording no more than three (3) selections can be played in any three hour period and only two may be played consecutively. No more than four (4) selections by the same featured recording artist can be played in any three (3) hour period (and no more than three (3) consecutively). For a set or compilation of phonorecordings, no more than four (4) selections can be played in any three (3) hour period and no more than three (3) may be played consecutively.

You cannot publish an advanced program schedule or make a prior announcement of the titles of specific sound recordings or the names of featured artists, except you can use artists names for illustrative purposes or say a particular artist will be featured as long as you don’t specify the future time period.

The license is also subject to certain limitations for archived programming. A transmission cannot be part of an archived program of less than five (5) hours duration; or cannot be part of an archived program of five  (5) hours or more if  the program is made available for more than two weeks;  or cannot be part of a continuous program of less that three (3) hours duration; or cannot be part of an indentifiable program if performances of sound recordings are made in a pre-determined order.

These limitations are all contained in the statute Congress passed authorizing a license for streaming sound recordings in certain circumstances.

Now the differences – This agreement is based upon payment for consumption. While a single payment covers the entire system for the entire duration of the agreement, the payment has been calculated based on listening to web streams for the system. Growth in audience to public radio’s web streams results in higher royalties. The agreement contains annual growth estimates, both in audiences and in the number of covered entities. This is important to us for two reasons: First, we can use audience growth as one metric of determining the value of our service. Secondly, paying more as more people use our music web streams means that more musicians will share in our success.

The concept of payment for consumption also underscores the importance of usage reporting. To ensure that public radio’s royalty costs are in line with actual use, those covered by this agreement must establish reliable reporting systems. These reporting systems will also be of great importance in making more accurate and certain payments to musicians.

One last point on reporting … during the negotiations, we learned that almost half of the labels whose sound recordings appear on our systems’ web streams are not members of SoundExchange. Without reporting across the entire system, we cannot be sure that these independent musicians and labels will receive the compensation to which they are entitled. Reporting strengthens the connections between our stations, their audiences and the musicians who appear on our web streams by making royalty payments a certainty for all musicians, SX members and non members’ labels.

Q: Do stations have any financial responsibilities to pay royalties directly to SoundExchange?

A: Stations and public radio entities that register with CPB under the agreement have no additional royalty payment responsibilities to SoundExchange. CPB’s payment meets all royalty payment obligations for all entities covered in the agreement.

Q: What is happening in Congress with the broadcast performance royalties debate?

A: Congress has began legislative efforts to end the long-standing exemption of traditional over-the-air broadcasters to air music without paying royalty fees to performing artists.

NPR believes a royalty for public radio is unnecessary and that pending legislation must be amended to reflect the following unique aspects of our public service:

* The non-commercial nature of public broadcasting helps to define how we operate and what we can/cannot do.
* The promotional value of broadcasting music at public radio stations is increasing, not decreasing as may be the case elsewhere in free radio.
* Public radio has preserved and enhanced the archetypal musical formats

For more information NPR’s efforts to protect the needs of public radio, please contact Michael Riksen at 202.513.2741.

Q: The term “webcasting” is used frequently. Is “streaming” the only form of web-distribution of sound recordings covered by the agreement? What about downloads or on-demand offerings?

A: This Agreement covers only streaming of sound recordings. Downloads of individual songs, archives or podcasts that contain copyrighted sound recordings are not covered by this Agreement.

Q: I remember hearing about an Historic Period. What’s that all about?

A: The CPB agreement covers an historic period for which stations will need to produce any and all reports they can during that time period. Many stations do not save streaming logs going back that far, but NPR/DS has been asked to aggregate any historic streaming data for the historic period and deliver it to Sound Exchange. This means if a station has historical data and it’s already in an electronic format that’s acceptable to SoundExchange (meaning neither the stations nor NPR/DS will need to process it to any great extent), then NPR/DS will collect it and give it to SoundExchange.

The historical reports cover the following time period:
April 1, 2004 – December 31, 2004
January 1, 2005 – January 31, 2009

Q: What reporting obligations will stations have and will CPB provide assistance for stations that need help?

A: CPB has announced that it has contracted with NPR/DS  to develop a reporting tool that meets the reporting requirements of the Agreement and that will be made available to everyone covered by the agreement. Stations are not required to use this device, but will need to have implemented a comprehensive reporting system by the end of this agreement, which is December 31, 2010.

Q: I’m already a NPR/DS Client who uses NPR/DS Composer and Streaming Services, what do I need to do now?

A: You’ll need to continue uploading accurate playlists into Composer, but going forward, once you’ve registered with CPB, NPR/DS will automatically generate and submit your SoundExchange quarterly report your behalf.

Q: I’m not a NPR/DS Composer Client, what do I do now?

A: If you use other tools for playlisting or streaming, you will need to upload both playlists and streaming logs to NPR/DS, so that we can calculate your quarterly SoundExchange report. Be sure to fill out the form above so that we can contact you to receive sample data files.

Q: Will this be a full report of every piece of music that I play?

A: Not at the beginning. We’re required to provide a two-week period within each quarter for all stations.

Q: What pieces of information about songs do we need to track and report to NPR/DS for SoundExchange reporting?

A: For each song played on each stream, please provide the following data:

  1. Song title
  2. Featured artist/group/orchestra
  3. Album title
  4. Marketing label
  5. Start date and time of song play
  6. End date and time of play or duration of song

See Playlist Log File Guidelines for more details.

Q: Why does NPR/DS need to know the start times and end times or duration of each song?

A: Start and end times/duration are needed to calculate (1)  the Actual Total Performances of each song, defined as the total number of people who heard a given song each time it was streamed, which we get by matching song play time with stream access during that time from your streaming logs and (2) your station’s Music Aggregate Tuning Hours (MATH), which is the total hours of music streamed times the number of people listening at the time music was played.

Q: What type of data should be included in raw streaming logs?

A: Usually stations don’t have control over what is logged by their streaming server. In general, most streaming server applications (e.g. Shoutcast, Icecast) log similar information. Basically, in order to create SX-compliant reports NPR/DS needs raw streaming access logs that capture the following information:

  1. IP Address of requester (for filtering our requests from outside the United States)
  2. URL requested
  3. Status of request
  4. Start date and time of request
  5. End date and time or duration or request

See Streaming Log File Guidelines for more details.

Q: Why does NPR/DS need to know the IP address of users accessing our streams?

A: SoundExchange pays royalties based on music streamed to listeners in the United States. They have asked us to filter out requests from users outside of the country. In order to do this (as best as possible) NPR/DS needs to know the user’s IP address.

Q: We’re primarily a news/talk/information stations, that plays little music (interstitials, bumpers, etc.). What are our reporting obligations under this agreement?

A: Initially, NPR/DS is focusing on gathering playlists from stations that play primarily music, in order to report as much Music ATH to SoundExchange as possible. However, in the future even stations that are primarily news and information will need to report on what songs or recording they play, unless they fall under the “brief and incidental” exception outlined below.

Also, SX still requires semi-annual surveys of all stations that are streaming to determine how much music is being streamed. This will require NPR/DS to request the appropriate log files from your station twice a year. For now, your station should still register with the CPB, accept the terms of the SX agreement and register with NPR/DS.

Q: Do we need to report playlist data for nationally syndicated programs (e.g. C24, The Thistle & Shamrock, etc.)?

A: It depends on the program. NPR/DS currently gets playlists from many syndicated programs. If the shows you stream currently provide playlists directly to NPR/DS, you need only indicate when you offer these programs via the program grid in Composer Basic or Pro. If, however, a syndicated program does not provide playlists to NPR/DS, then your station is responsible for collecting and reporting playlist information for the show, just as you would for your local programming.

Q: Is there a threshold length for how long we can play a sound recording before we have to report it?

A: There is no simple threshold length to determine whether a song/recording needs to be reported. In short, all recordings play should be reported. However, there is an exception for performances that are briefAND incidental to the other program content. “Brief” means playing any one recording for less than 30 seconds (as long as it isn’t played in its entirety). “Incidental” is much more vague, but generally refers to musical transitions, performances during news, talk and sports programming and background performances. Again, both conditions must be met to meet the exception; simply playing less than 30 seconds of a recording is not enough; it has to also be incidental or secondary to the main program content. This leaves lots of room for grey areas. When in doubt, report it. For further clarification or questions, refer to your own legal counsel.

Q: Do we need to report live performances, i.e. the artist is playing live in the station’s studio?

A: The answer here is that since the performance is going out live from your studio and IF you get a valid release from the performers there would be no performance or recording royalty to pay in that case. Again, that is assuming you get a valid release signed by the artist!

Q: Do we need to report songs that are in the public domain?

A: While a song may be in the public domain in terms of publishing royalties, the recording of it may not be (i.e. a recent recording of an old standard). The recommended approach is to report all music you play and let SoundExchange sort out who, if anybody, is due a royalty.

Q: Classical recordings often don’t have album titles. What should we report in those cases?

A: Report whatever title is on the physical CD or album from which it came (i.e. what’s on the spine). Whatever it says there is what is to be reported.

Q: How are we supposed to report song titles for classical pieces? Is a Beethoven symphony 4 tracks or 1?

A: However the label divides up the album tracks, that’s what to go on. So, if they split a Beethoven symphony into four tracks, each one is to be reported as a separate song title.

Q: What does “artist” mean for a classical performance? Is this the composer?

A: For classical music the Featured Artist/Group/Orchestra should be the soloist, orchestra or conductor that is featured prominently on the album

Q: My station often plays an entire classical piece (such as a symphony or opera) which, potentially, can be broken down into many tracks on a CD. Are we supposed to report each track as a separate song, or can we report the whole piece as one?

A: SoundExchange wants the piece reported as it is broken down on the CD or album, meaning that each separate track must be reported separately.

Q: If we play music from a band that does not have label representation and puts out their own CD, what do we put in the Label field?

A: What SoundExchange wants in the Label field is the name of the entity that owns the copyright to the recording, which is usually a record company. If an artist puts out their own album and owns the copyright to the recording, put the artist name in the label field.

Q: Some of the music we play comes from other countries and has titles written in other languages and alphabets (e.g. Cyrillic). How should we report these?

A: SoundExchange encourages stations to report English translations of foreign titles whenever possible. However, when English translations can not be obtained, report the titles as they are and SoundExchange will deal with the translation.

Q: What should we report as the Album for singles that we stream?

A: SoundExchange encourages stations to report the album from a which single came. In the case where a single was a pre-release or truly had no associated album, report the single title in the Album field.

Q: Do SoundExchange reports supersede or replace the reports we file with BMI, ASCAP or SESAC?

A: No. While all four are performing rights organizationsBMIASCAP, andSESAC collect and distribute royalties for songwriterscomposers and music publishers related to the public performance of their copyrighted work.SoundExchange, on the other hand, collects and distributes royalties forfeatured recording artists and sound recording master rights owners (i.e. recording labels or independent musicians) related to the non-interactive digital transmissions (e.g. via the internet or satellite radio) of their copyrighted recordings.

So, in short, no, SoundExchange reporting does not supersede (or eliminate the need for) BMI/ASCAP/SESAC reporting.

Q: With the possibility of CPB being defunded by 2013, what will happen to the SoundExchange agreement that is supposed to last until 2015?

A: The CPB has already paid the bill for the full term of the agreement, so it will remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2015. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.

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