Category: Legal

Can and Should You Censor a Political Ad?

| April 8, 2015

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo
Legal Editor

 

weismanwriterBOSTON — The victory of incumbent mayor (and former White House Chief of Staff) Rahm Emanuel over Cook County Commissioner Jesus G. Garcia in the April 7 runoff election for Chicago’s mayoral seat notwithstanding, the election is already quite noteworthy for a political television advertisement that Chicago voters got to see on the local Fox and NBC affiliates, but not on ABC 7 — Chicago’s highest rated local network affiliate — when ABC’s corporate legal department objected to two claims made within the advertisement.

The first objection dealt with a claim asserted in the advertisement that Emanuel earned $ 18 million as an investment banker between 1999 and 2002, but was paid that money although he performed, in the words of the advertisement, “almost no work.”  ABC objected to the phrase, “almost no work,” arguing that there was no support for that allegation.  Additionally, ABC objected to the allegations contained in the television advertisement that Emanuel used his position as mayor “to turn his brother’s investment in Uber into a billion dollars.”  Again, ABC said that there was no factual basis for this allegation.

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Clear as Mud But it Covers the Ground

| March 12, 2015

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo
Legal Editor

weismanwriterBOSTON — According to the old song, “Man Piaba,” “It was as clear as mud, but it covered the ground.”  These words are an apt description of the court decision earlier this week in the lawsuit brought by the family of the late Marvin Gaye against Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams alleging that Thicke’s 2013 smash hit song “Blurred Lines” (written by Pharrell Williams) infringed on the copyright of Marvin Gaye’s 1977 classic “Got to Give it Up.”  Since I am a lawyer and one cannot be too careful, I do want to give credit to Jack N. Rollins and Harry Belafonte who wrote “Man Piaba.”  Can’t be too careful.

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The Battle Over Net Neutrality

| February 27, 2015

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo
Legal Editor

weismanwriterWASHINGTON — No one seems to be neutral over net neutrality.  On February 26, the FCC approved new rules to classify and regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility by a vote of 3-2 strictly along party lines with the three Democratic commissioners voting in favor of the new rules and the two Republican commissioners voting against the proposal.

Not that any of the commissioners appeared to be against net neutrality.  Net neutrality is the name for the principle that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally and that Internet Service Providers cannot charge more for higher-speed service and greater access which would limit the most effective use of the Internet to only those large companies that could afford the greater fees.  Under net neutrality, the Internet Service Providers could not speed up, slow down or block delivery of any content or service.   Those in favor of net neutrality fear giving Internet Service Providers too much power and control over how people surf the net.  Internet Service Providers have opposed net neutrality for years, arguing that they should be able to charge higher fees to some companies, such as Netflix to receive faster service.  However critics of the Internet Service providers’ proposals for tiered pricing say that it would stifle freedom of speech and equal access that is at the cornerstone of the Internet and, in effect, would result in only big companies that could afford larger fees having effective access to the Internet as a means of communication.

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PAYOLA: What Every Radio Broadcaster Should Know

| February 19, 2015

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo
Legal Editor

weismanAMHERST, MA — For many years it has been a violation of both federal law and FCC regulations for radio stations to neglect to inform the listening audience when someone has provided payment, services or something else of value in return for getting something on the airwaves.  This practice of paying for play has come to be known as “Payola” although the term does not specifically appear in any of the laws or regulations.

Payola has a rich and colorful history that includes both Congressional hearings and comments in 1960 by President Dwight Eisenhower who referred to Payola as an issue of public morality and called for laws to make Payola a crime.

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Federal Court Decision Makes Turtles Happy Together

| November 19, 2014

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo 
Legal Editor

 

weismanwriterBOSTON — In his classic 1965 song “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Bob Dylan said, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”  However, you just might need a lawyer or a team of lawyers to understand how the copyright laws apply to classic rock and other music recorded prior to 1972.

In 1972 Congress updated the federal copyright laws regarding copyright protection of sound recordings.  However, the federal law did not apply retroactively to its effective date of February 15, 1972.  The 1972 copyright law specifically indicated that sound recordings did not have performance rights with the exception of digital transmissions, but that only applied to recordings made after February 15, 1972.

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Do You Have a Non-Competition Clause in Your Contract?

| September 3, 2013

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo 
Legal Editor

 

weismanwriterBOSTON — It is nothing new for some business people to have a dim view of competition.  The legendary John D. Rockefeller, founder of the oil company monopoly, Standard Oil said “Competition is a sin.”  The federal government disagreed and Standard Oil was broken up under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1911 following a landmark Supreme Court decision.

When it comes to radio talk show hosts or disc jockeys, being able to compete by leaving one employer and going to another employer is often viewed by radio station owners in a fashion similar to Rockefeller’s.  To them, competition by former employees, if not sinful, should at least be considered a breach of contract.  It is not unusual for a talk radio host’s contract to include a provision that limits the right of the host to work for someone else.  This contract provision is commonly called a non-competition clause.  Often such clauses are used to limit the right of a talk radio host from going to work for a competitor in the same city or geographical area.

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WTOP Hacking – Why You Should Worry

| May 28, 2013

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo
Legal Editor

weismanBOSTON — As reported in Talkers earlier in May, Washington D.C. radio stations WTOP and Federal News Radio had their websites hacked resulting in the possible infection of anyone who accessed the two websites using the popular Internet Explorer web browser prior to the discovery and correction of the problem.

The hacking of these two websites is particularly insidious because unlike infections that occur when a computer user is lured to a phony infected website set up for the specific purpose of infecting unwary computer users — a technique called “phishing” — in this case, the computer users were infected when they went to legitimate websites that they believed were trustworthy.

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Radio Station Sued for Infringing Rights of Man with Down Syndrome –
What It Means to You

| May 6, 2013

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo
Legal Editor

Among the hats I wear in addition to that of legal editor of RadioInfo is the mortar board of a professor at Bentley University where one of the courses I teach is Media Law.  The recently filed lawsuit by the parents of Adam Holland, a man with Down Syndrome has enough media law issues to fill an entire semester.  These issues are also important to you as broadcasters, station owners and managers.

The lawsuit which was filed in federal court in Tennessee on April 22nd, contains counts for invasion of privacy, misappropriation of a likeness, defamation, intentional infliction of emotion distress and violation of a Tennessee statute regarding commercial exploitation of a person’s photograph, however I will deal only with the allegations most appropriate to broadcasters.

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A Serious Loss for Howard Stern

| April 15, 2013

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo
Legal Editor

sternhowardBOSTON — Sometimes it is, as Mel Brooks commented in his movie “The History of the World, Part One,” good to be the king.  But other times it is not.  Howard Stern, the self-proclaimed (and not too far off) “King of All Media” took a hit last week when the dismissal of his lawsuit against Sirius XM Radio, Inc. in which he sought more than $300 million in stock awards was upheld by the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court.

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FCC Dumps Indecency Complaints; Seeks Public Comments on Policy

| April 8, 2013

By Steven J.J. Weisman
RadioInfo
Legal Editor

BOSTON — Somehow it seems particularly fitting that the FCC chose April Fools’ Day to issue a press release in which it indicated that as a result of its review of its broadcast indecency rules following the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., it had managed to reduce its backlog of pending indecency complaints by more than one million — which represented 70% of the outstanding pending complaints.  How, you might ask, was the FCC able to carefully evaluate more than a million complaints in only six months?  It was easy.  These cases were summarily dismissed for various reasons, such as being beyond the FCC’s five-year statute of limitations, involved cases outside of the FCC’s jurisdiction, contained insufficient information or were not actionable due to previous established precedents.  Cases were also dismissed for being, in the FCC’s words “too stale to pursue,” although there is no FCC definition of staleness.  It is also interesting to note that the FCC has not brought an action against a broadcaster for indecency since 2008 and that order of the FCC against Fox involving the 2003 broadcast of the show “Married by America” — which originally carried a $1.18 million fine, later reduced by the FCC to $91,000 — was ultimately voluntarily dismissed by the FCC in September of 2012.

A cynic might find it curious that the reason for the staleness in those cases was the FCC’s total ignoring of these cases for years, although in the FCC’s defense, a reasonable case could be made for the agency’s hesitance to act in the last few years as Fox’s challenge to the indecency regulations made its way through the federal courts and ultimately to the Supreme Court which decided the case (sort of)  on June 21, 2012.  However, as for the cases that were dismissed for having insufficient information or being not actionable due to previously established precedents, those facts should have been readily apparent to the FCC years ago.

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