D.C. Circuit Holds Copyright Royalty Board Unconstitutional

This morning, in Intercollegiate Broadcast System v. Copyright Royalty Board, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit consisting of Judges Garland, Griffith, and Senior Judge Williams declared the Copyright Royalty Board to be unconstitutional under the Appointments Clause, and adopts a narrow fix. This was not a surprising development, as this issue has been brewing for some time (as I noted in these posts). Senior Judge Williams’ opinion for the court in begins:

Intercollegiate Broadcasting, Inc. appeals a final determination of the Copyright Royalty Judges (“CRJs” or “Judges”) setting the default royalty rates and terms applicable to internet-based “webcasting” of digitally recorded music. We find we need not address Intercollegiate’s argument that Congress’s grant of power to the CRJs is void because the provision for judicial review gives us legislative or administrative powers that may not be vested in an Article III court. But we agree with Intercollegiate that the position of the CRJs, as currently constituted, violates the Appointments Clause, U.S. Const., art. II, § 2, cl. 2. To remedy the violation, we follow the Supreme Court’s approach in Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Bd., 130 S. Ct. 3138 (2010), by invalidating and severing the restrictions on the Librarian of Congress’s ability to remove the CRJs. With such removal power in the Librarian’s hands, we are confident that the Judges are “inferior” rather than “principal” officers, and that no constitutional problem remains. Because of the Appointments Clause violation at the time of decision, we vacate and remand the determination challenged here; accordingly we need not reach Intercollegiate’s arguments regarding the merits of the rates and terms set in that determination.