Yesterday brought news that a Federal Magistrate issued a ruling (a 42 page order discussing fine points of law) deciding that the antitrust lawsuit brought by RMLC against GMR should not be tried in the Pennsylvania court where the suit was brought. As we wrote here, RMLC (the group that represents many commercial radio operators in music licensing matters) had argued that GMR (a relatively new organization representing songwriters in licensing music use as do ASCAP, BMI and SESAC) was acting in violation of the antitrust rules by trying to license music from a number of songwriters at prices well in excess of the amount that corresponded to these artists’ share of radio airplay. GMR seemingly retaliated by suing RMLC in a Los Angeles court, arguing that RMLC itself violates the antitrust laws by functioning as a buyer’s cartel unifying music licensing buyers against these songwriters (see our article here). Since these dueling suits were filed, the parties have been fighting over where this case should be heard.
RMLC had brought their case in Pennsylvania both because a number of RMLC members operate in Pennsylvania and because RMLC had obtained a favorable result in that court in similar litigation against SESAC, leading to the arbitration process that substantially decreased the rates that the commercial radio industry pays to that organization (see our article here). GMR sued in California as it is headquartered there, and presumably thought that it might get a bit of a “home court advantage” by trying a case in a state a bit more disposed toward content creators. So what does the decision yesterday mean?
First, it is only a preliminary ruling, with RMLC last night announcing that it intended to file an appeal of the decision. A magistrate judge in the Federal Court system, like the one who made this decision, is essentially an assistant judge appointed by US District Courts to assist the District Court judges in resolving the many legal issues that arise in cases being litigated in these District Courts. The actual trial of the case is held before the District Court Judge, and that Judge can overrule decisions of the magistrates. So RMLC is asking for review by the District Court judge assigned to this case.
But this decision highlights that, no matter what happens, there does not appear to be any quick resolution of the GMR/RMLC battle in sight. The magistrate’s decision contains a litany of charges and countercharges between the parties, indicating there is still much dispute, though it also mentions that there have been numerous meetings between GMR and RMLC representatives, though there is no indication of whether any of these meetings have made any substantial progress in resolving the issue of the appropriate royalties to be paid to GMR by the radio industry. Even if the District Court judge determines that the case should proceed in Pennsylvania, it appears that there has been little discovery undertaken while the procedural issues have been fought, so any trial and decision is likely a long way off. If the litigation moves to California, that court would have to start fresh in its consideration of the RMLC issues.
As we wrote here, the interim license agreement that GMR has offered to broadcasters runs through March 2018. Given the state of the litigation, it would not be surprising if additional interim deals are necessary before this matter is ultimately resolved.