Will the FCC get involved in a dispute between a radio station and SoundExchange? The company that collects money from radio stations that stream music online hopes so and has filed an “informal objection” to KWHO’s license renewal with the Commission.
In order to receive a statutory license to stream music radio stations are required to pay a fee and file monthly reports on what artists they aired online. SoundExchange says KWHO filed its intent to comply with the statutory license with the United States Copyright Office but isn’t following the rules. “The station has been continually webcasting for several years and has never fully complied with the federal copyright law requirements of the Statutory License. The artists whose works were streamed by KWHO have never received royalties earned from such streaming.”
SoundExchange claims that the radio station, located in Powell Wyoming, has not complied with the rules under that license since 2015 and has never filed any monthly reports. SoundExchange says it has sent the station ten letters since 2016 trying to get them into compliance. KWHO has not paid their minimum annual fee, which is now $1,000. Many small radio stations pay a flat fee to SoundExchange.
SoundExchange is now turning to the FCC for help. They are asking The Commission to consider whether this describes misconduct on the part of the station and whether the station is dealing truthfully with The Commission. In other words, they are saying because the station is not complying with the law (to submit the paperwork to SoundExchange) this is relevant to the Commission’s public interest analysis and should be taken into consideration during the license renewal process. SoundExchange also wonders, in its filing to the FCC, if the station would be willing to violate other laws.
Broadcast attorney Frank Montero says he doesn’t believe the FCC would get involved in a private financial dispute like this. “It’s outside the FCC’s jurisdiction. The FCC is not a court to adjudicate contract or infringement disputes. Moreover, I think that it is arguably an abuse of the FCC’s processes for license renewals to use the renewal process to pressure a licensee to settle a private financial dispute. That is not the purpose of the public comment function of the FCC license renewal process. In fact if a party threatens an FCC petition or objection to pressure another party in a private dispute, that could be seen as green-mail and the filing as a “strike pleading” that will get the petitioner and their counsel in hot water.”
KWHO General Manager John Speenie had no comment on the matter and referred us to Northeast Broadcasting’s corporate headquarters. President Jacob Silberberg did not return our call for comment.
We also asked an FCC representative if they would consider taking up the matter. The FCC had no comment.