In the Federal Register last week was a notice that SoundExchange intends to audit the royalty payments of Pandora for its Internet radio service. As we wrote at the beginning of the year, SoundExchange routinely decides to audit representative companies in various segments of the digital music industry. In January, for instance, they issued notices of audits for a number of broadcasters, pure webcasters, and other digital music services (see our post here about the audit notices released in January). These audit notices are usually released at the beginning of the year though, from time to time, we’ve seen SoundExchange decide later in the year to audit a particular service (see our article here).
What is involved in an audit? We wrote about the royalty audit process here. SoundExchange issues notice of an audit, and that notice must be published in the Federal Register. SoundExchange selects an auditor who, under the rules of the Copyright Royalty Board, must be a CPA. The auditor reviews the books and records of the service and issues a report, to which the service can respond. Neither the audit report nor the response are filed with the government or otherwise made public. The results of the audit are provided to SoundExchange for any appropriate action they may take. Under the audit rules, if a service has underpaid SoundExchange by more than 10%, in addition to any late fees it owes, it also has to pick up the cost of the audit. This audit notice reminds all digital music services to accurately measure their audiences and properly report to SoundExchange, as it is always possible that their royalty payments can be reviewed. As this notice makes clear, just because they were not targeted in January does not mean that they will not be reviewed at some other point during the year.
SoundExchange is not the only company that can conduct audits. All other music royalty companies reserve that right, and from time to time decide to audit companies, often on a random basis, to assess that they are properly reporting their usage of music. Such audits are also common in other areas, wherever royalties are paid for the use of intellectual property (see our article here). So review your contracts and take care, as sloppy royalty reporting can raise issues with providers of all of your content.