Richard C. Strasser Named Interim Copyright Royalty Board Judge
Richard C. Strasser Named Interim Copyright Royalty Board Judge

The Copyright Royalty Board will be led by a new chief copyright judge with the appointment of Suzanne M. Barnett to that position. She was picked by the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to replace outgoing Chief Copyright Royalty James Sledge, who is retiring.

The change comes two day after a huge music industry copyright settlement was announced and put in a motion before the CRB board, which is comprised of three Judges, with Barnett expected to come on board May 20.

Copyright Royalty Board To Set Mechanical Royalty Rates For Digital Music Services

The settlement maintains the same mechanical royalty rates and formulas for all existing music formats and business models set back in the last CRB proceedings in 2008-2009 (they announced the ruling in October 2008, it was formally approved on Jan. 26 2009, but then the majors appealed in February. By May the appeal process was over and it was set in stone) and creates formulas for five new potential music business models or categories. The rates would apply to the period from 2013 through 2017.

The switch in judges is likely to delay the expected approval of the proposed settlement announced on April 11, but not the outcome, says sources connected to the settlement.

Since the settlement was negotiated and signed off on by the National Assn. of Music Publishers, the Recording Industry Assn. of America, the Digital Media Assn. and CTIA, the wireless association, and other interested parties, now that the motion containing the settlement has been filed with the Copyright Royalty Board, the CRB is expected to approve the settlement and make known its determinations. When that happens, involved parties will have 15 days to request a re-hearing, while the Register of Copyrights will have 60 days to review the decision for legal error. By the end of the latter period, the Librarian of Congress will publish the determination in the Federal Register. Once the ruling appears in the Federal Registrar, unhappy parties have 30 days to file an appeal.

"This may delay a final publication while Judge Sledge retires and the new judge takes his place, but should not affect determination," says an executive with one of the parties that was involved in shaping the settlement.

Last time out after the CRB made known its determinations in October 2008, then-U.S. Register of Copyrights Marybeth Peters made comments on the CRB's determination that caused the board to amend some of the finer points of the settlement that it had agreed to adopt. After the final determination was finally published in the Jan. 26 issue of the Federal Registrar, the major labels challenged certain components of the CRB's ruling, including the royalty rate structure for ringtones and whether the CRB decision to impose a 1.5% late fee per month was arbitrary and capricious.

This time out none of the interested parties are expected to appeal since they all have either signed off on it or have told those involved in negotiations that shaped the settlement that they won't object to it, sources say.

Meanwhile, Barnett, the new CRB Judge, is a superior court judge of King County in Seattle, WA. She was first elected to the court in 1996.

As a judge in a court of general jurisdiction, Barnett, who received her bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary in Virginia in 1971 and her law degree from Washington and Lee University in 1981, hears cases of all types and presides over both jury and non-jury trials. Barnett has served on all the King County calendars - civil, criminal, family, and juvenile - and at all three superior court locations. The superior court also acts in an appellate capacity under the state's administrative procedures act.

Prior to joining the bench, Barnett practiced law for 16 years, beginning at Lane Powell in Seattle, then moving to the Houston office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges before returning to Seattle to co-found the Barnett MacLean law firm.

In a statement, Librarian of Congress Billington said Barnett's 16 years of experience presiding over a wide variety of trials make her highly qualified to be chief copyright royalty judge.

Barnett joins William Roberts and Stanley Wisniewski on the Copyright Royalty Board. The announcement noted that the copyright royalty judges are charged by statute with facilitating efficiency of transactions required by law between copyright holders and distributors. The judges conduct proceedings between parties when the parties are unable to reach agreement on royalty terms, and facilitate distribution of royalties in concert with the U.S. Copyright Office.