Skip to main content

Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel


Three-member ad hoc board empowered to make decisions regarding ratemaking and distributions ofcopyright royaltiescollected for compulsory licenses under the Copyright Act of 1976.

In order for a person to use another's copyrighted work, the person must generally obtain a license from the copyright owner. The terms of the agreement normally depend upon market conditions at the time of the agreement. However, the Copyright Act of 1976, codified in Title 17 of the United States Code, creates an exception under some circumstances whereby a prospective user may obtain a compulsory license that allows the individual to use a copyrighted work without the owner's permission. The compulsory license applies so long as the person applying for the license meets statutory requirements and pays the required royalties.

Congress in the 1976 act created the copyright royalty tribunal (CRT), an independent federal agency empowered to distribute royalties collected under the compulsory license provisions, as well as to make periodic adjustments to the royalty rates attached to the compulsory licenses. The original copyright act provided for four compulsory licenses, including those for cable television, musical mechanical, noncommercial broadcasting, and jukeboxes. In 1992, Congress extended responsibility to the CRT to include distribution of levies collected from manufacturers and importers of digital recording devices.

The Copyright Royalty Tribunal was controversial from its inception. Although the ratemaking provisions were generally clear, the statute was rather ambiguous regarding the methods by which the tribunal should distribute royalties. The tribunal's decisions with respect to its ratemaking powers led to frequent criticism and litigation. Moreover, critics charged that Congress had created a full-time independent agency to perform a part-time job. In 1990, Congress reduced the number of commissioners on the tribunal from five to three, and during hearings in the House of Representatives in 1993, two of the three commissioners testified that they were in favor of abolishing the Copyright Royalty Tribunal.

In 1988, Congress enacted the Satellite Home Viewer Act, Pub. L. No. 100-667, 102 Stat. 3935, which created, at that time, a fifth compulsory license. However, the act required the formation of ad hoc arbitration panels to amend royalty fees for satellite retransmissions, thus bypassing the authority of the CRT. The success of these arbitration panels persuaded Congress to use them for the other forms of compulsory licenses under the Copyright Act. The Copyright Royalty Tribunal Reform Act of 1993, Pub. L. No. 103-198, 107 Stat. 2304, immediately abolished the Copyright Royalty Tribunal and allowed for the formation of ad hoc copyright arbitration royalty panels.

The 1993 act did not change the system of compulsory licenses, but rather it shifted authority from the CRT to the new panels. Arbitrators on these panels are appointed and convened by the librarian of Congress, who acts on the recommendation of the Register of Copyrights. The arbitrators must meet minimum criteria set forth under the statute in order to quality for the position.

At the time of the creation of these arbitration panels, the librarian of Congress was directed to adopt the rules and regulations of the CRT in their entirety, though the CRT no longer existed. These rules and regulations were to remain in force until the librarian decided to supplement or supersede them. The adoption of the tribunal's former rules and regulations presented problems, however, because the 1993 act eliminated a single body—the CRT—and replaced it with a system of ad hoc panels. In December 1993, the librarian of Congress adopted the former CRT rules on an interim basis. One year later, the librarian issued new rules governing the panels, effective January 6, 1995. Additional revisions to the rules governing the panels have also been made since the 1994 revisions.

Like the CRT, the arbitration panels make decisions regarding distribution of royalties and ratemaking for royalties under the compulsory license provisions. Unlike the CRT, the purposes of the copyright arbitration royalty panels are set out clearly in the statute. Among the many purposes of the panels in the statute is the maximization of the availability of creative works to the public; the assurance that copyright owners receive a fair return for their creative works; and the guarantee that the roles of the copyright owner and the copyright user in the product made available to the public were reflected. 18 U.S.C.A. § 801(b) (1998). The statute lists other purposes as well.

The copyright arbitration royalty panels have proven more popular than the former CRT, although disputes still arise regarding ratemaking or distribution decisions by the panels. Convening a panel to make a rate adjustment is more difficult than the procedure that was followed under the CRT, which was a permanent body. The time frame under which a panel decision must be completed is also a concern for those involved in a panel proceeding. All actions by the parties—including discovery, testimony, studies, arguments, motions, and so forth—as well as rulings, orders, and final report issued by the panel, must be completed within 180 days after the librarian of Congress directs the formation of the arbitration panel. Nevertheless, these procedures are generally believed to promote efficiency when these panels make these determinations, and the panels have not been subjected to the same level of criticism as the former tribunals.

further readings

Davis, Mark J. 2003. "Practice Before the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel in 17 U.S.C. § 111 Distribution Proceedings." Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment Law and Practice 11.

Goldstein, Paul. 2003. Copyright. 2d ed. New York: Aspen.

Nimmer, Melville B., and David Nimmer. 2003. Nimmer on Copyright. Newark, NJ: LexisNexis/Matthew Bender.


Copyright; Copyright, International; Copyright Society of the U.S.A.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . 14 Sep. 2019 <>.

"Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . (September 14, 2019).

"Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved September 14, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.