GMR antitrust litigation

In 2019, the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice began a review of the court-administered antitrust consent decrees that have bound ASCAP and BMI since the 1940s.  We wrote about the issues in their review here.  The formal review of these decrees began as part of the DOJ’s broader review of its antitrust consent decrees covering many different industries.  The DOJ received almost a thousand comments on the questions that it asked about the ASCAP and BMI decrees.  It also held public roundtables as well as private discussions with interested parties during its review.  Last week, Makan Delrahim, the outgoing head of the Antitrust Division, presented remarks at a Vanderbilt Law School virtual event where he said that the review would be ending without any proposals for reform.  While the statement notes some of the reforms that were sought by the music industry, it also notes that music users around the country rely on the systems established under the decrees and judge them to be working well.  Mr. Delrahim’s statement says that because of the complexity of the issues and the interruptions caused by the pandemic, no reforms would be offered at this time, but it urged the DOJ to continue to review these decrees on a regular basis – at least once every five years.

This action is significant for broadcasters and other music users as it leaves in place these consent decrees that are the basis on which so many businesses use music in their day-to-day operations.  Given the volume of music they have under license, most businesses do not have an alternative to using the blanket licenses offered by these organizations.  The only alternative would be to license the music themselves which, due to the complexity of the copyright laws and the lack of transparency in music ownership, would be exceedingly difficult for a business where music is but a secondary component to their operations.  Together, ASCAP and BMI provide a license to broadcasters and other music users (including any business that performs music to the public, such as bars and restaurants, retail stores, digital music services, concert venues, hotels and so many other locations).
Continue Reading DOJ Ends its Review of ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees – For Now…What Does it Mean?

The Radio Music License Committee yesterday told members that Global Music Rights (“GMR”), the performing rights organization that began a few years ago to collect royalties for the public performance of songs written by a select number of popular songwriters (including Bruce Springsteen, members of the Eagles, Pharrell Williams and others who have withdrawn from ASCAP and BMI) has agreed to extend its interim license for commercial radio stations until March 31, 2021. The notice says that GMR will be contacting stations that signed the previous extension (through March 31 of this year) to extend the interim license for another year on the same terms now in place. If you don’t hear from GMR by March 15, the RMLC suggests that you reach out to GMR directly (do not contact RMLC as they cannot help) to inquire about this extension.

As we have written before (see our articles here, here and here), GMR and the RMLC are in protracted litigation over whether or not the rates set by GMR should be subject to some sort of antitrust review, as are the rates set by ASCAP, BMI and even SESAC (see our article here on the SESAC rates). GMR has counterclaimed, arguing that RMLC is a “buyer’s cartel” in violation of the antitrust laws.  Earlier this year, the lawsuits were consolidated in a court in California, where litigation is ongoing (see our article here about the transfer).  In our most recent article about the litigation, we noted that the court rejected motions from each party asking that the other’s claims be dismissed.  Thus, unless there is a settlement, the case will go to trial.  The decision to extend the interim license for a year, instead of the six-month period in previous extensions, may indicate that GMR at least expects that the litigation will continue.
Continue Reading Another Interim License Extension Offered by GMR to Radio Broadcasters – This Time for a Full Year – An Indication of the Status of the Litigation With RMLC? 

Global Music Rights, the relatively new performing rights organization that signed a number of composers of popular songs away from ASCAP and BMI in order to seek higher music royalties for the public performance of their works on radio stations and other media platforms (see our articles here and here), lost one round in its litigation with the Radio Music License Committee in RMLC’s attempt to bring GMR under some sort of rate review under the antitrust laws.  RMLC has alleged that GMR, by combining multiple artists in a single essentially take-it-or-leave-it package, is able to charge rates well above what any artists could receive on its own, thus violating the antitrust laws (see our articles here and here).  This is a theory like the one which lead to an arbitration with SESAC dramatically lowering royalty rates the radio industry pays to that organization (see our articles here and here).  In a decision released Friday, the Judge presiding over RMLC’s case rejected GMR’s arguments that the suit should be dismissed without a trial.   The Judge, in a short three-page opinion, said that viewed in their most favorable light to RMLC (which is the standard used in deciding on such motions), the facts alleged by RMLC were enough to support the claims it made in the lawsuit, so the case will go to trial.

But this is not necessarily a great victory, as the Judge notes that it remains to be seen whether, when the full facts are introduced at the trial and challenged by GMR, these facts will in fact be enough to sustain the claims of RMLC.  A similar finding was made in GMR’s countersuit – arguing that RMLC formed an illegal buyer’s cartel in violation of the antitrust laws by trying to negotiate royalty rates for most commercial radio operators (see our article here on that countersuit).  The Court rejected RMLC’s argument that the GMR suit should be dismissed, finding that there were enough facts raised to potentially support GMR’s claims, though also warning that it remained to be seen if, once the facts were presented and challenged at trial, whether they indeed would sustain GMR’s claims.
Continue Reading Litigation Continues as Court Rejects GMR Motion to Dismiss RMLC Lawsuit – and RMLC’s Request to Dismiss GMR Claims

In the last week, we have received many inquiries from radio stations that received a notice from attorneys for Global Music Rights (GMR) about document production in GMR’s litigation with the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC).  As we have written before (see, for instance, our articles here, here and here), RMLC and GMR have for several years been engaged in antitrust litigation.  RMLC is seeking to impose outside review on the rates that GMR can charge broadcasters for the public performance of the music written by the songwriters that they represent, while GMR argues that RMLC itself violates the antitrust laws by unifying competing broadcasters and preventing them from doing business with GMR.

The recent communications from GMR concern GMR’s obligation to produce documents to the RMLC’s attorneys in discovery in this litigation.  Because RMLC has not been directly involved in GMR’s dealings with radio stations over the interim license agreements (and because RMLC itself does not have copies of the interim licenses that stations entered into with GMR), RMLC’s lawyers asked GMR for the production of these licenses as part of their discovery.  Because the interim licenses contain some confidentiality language, GMR’s recent communications was to let stations know that they are planning to produce those licenses to the RMLC’s attorneys, subject to the Protective Orders that GMR attached to their messages.  These Protective Orders are designed to keep the information in those licenses out of the public record, to be reviewed only by a limited group of people including RMLC’s attorneys and expert witnesses. The GMR communications are asking broadcasters if they have objections to the production of these licenses to RMLC’s lawyers.     
Continue Reading Radio Stations Receive Inquiries from GMR on the Production of Interim Licenses – What Is this All About?

Global Music Rights (most commonly known as GMR), the newest of the major performing rights organizations (PROs) licensing public performances of musical compositions, filed a lawsuit against radio operator Entravision Communications earlier this month. The suit alleges that Entravision failed to pay GMR royalties for the public performance of hundreds of compositions written by GMR songwriters. According to the complaint, GMR sent Entravision several letters over the last few years, notifying Entravision that it was playing GMR music and asking that it enter into a license to play that music. When no license was signed or even requested after these multiple requests, the lawsuit was filed.

The suit seeks $150,000 for each copyrighted work that was allegedly infringed – the maximum set out by the Copyright Act for “statutory damages,” i.e. damages that can be collected even without providing evidence of actual harm caused by the alleged copyright infringement. While Courts have discretion to order far lower statutory damages than those being sought here, even the threat of such damages have been enough to put many of the original file-sharing music sites out of business. Of course, in this case, these damages are being sought not from some company that provides unlimited downloads of unlicensed music, but from a publicly traded radio company presumably already paying other performing rights organizations for the use of music.
Continue Reading GMR Sues Entravision for Royalty Payments – Looking at the Issues Raised By This New Development in the Music Royalty Wars

This week, the lawsuit brought by the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) against new performing rights organization GMR (Global Music Rights) for alleged violations of the antitrust laws was determined by a court in Pennsylvania to have been brought in the wrong place – and transferred to a court in California.  This case has been on hold for well over two years while this procedural question was ironed out.  Now that the case has been transferred to California, the litigation that has been on hold while the jurisdictional issue was resolved can begin – but don’t expect quick results as these complicated cases can take years to resolve.  What is involved in this case?

Back in 2016, when RMLC concluded that it was not likely to reach a negotiated royalty rate for radio’s use of the musical compositions controlled by GMR songwriters and publishers, it brought the Pennsylvania court action.  In that action, it argued that the rates that GMR wanted were an abuse of the market power that GMR was able to exercise by banding these songwriters together and offering a license to radio stations on an all-or-nothing basis (see our articles here and here for more on the initial suit).  As it had done successfully with SESAC (see our article here), and as has been the case for decades with ASCAP and BMI, RMLC had hoped to have the court declare that GMR’s unrestrained royalty demands were contrary to the antitrust laws, and that some limits should be imposed on those rates.  The RMLC suit against GMR was brought in the same Pennsylvania court in which RMLC had sued SESAC, which led to the settlement subjecting SESAC rates to arbitration if the parties could not voluntarily agree on rates (and the arbitration process ultimately resulted in significantly lower rates for commercial radio than SESAC had previously received – see our article here on the results of the arbitration).
Continue Reading Music Rights Suit by Radio Music License Committee Against GMR Moved to California Courts – No End in Sight?

In the last few weeks, the press has been buzzing with speculation that the Department of Justice is moving toward suggesting changes in the antitrust consent decrees that govern the operations of ASCAP and BMI.  Those consent decrees, which have been in place since the 1940s, among other things require that these Performing Rights Organizations treat all songwriters alike in distributions based on how often their songs are played, and that they treat all services alike with users that provide the same kind of service all paying the same rate structure.  Rates are also reviewed by a court with oversight over the decrees when the PROs and music services cannot come to a voluntary agreement to arrive at reasonable rates.  The decrees have also been read to mean that songwriters, once part of the ASCAP or BMI collective, cannot withdraw with respect to certain services and negotiate with those services themselves while still remaining part of the collective with respect to other music users (see, e.g., our articles here and here about the desires of certain publishing companies to withdraw from these PROs to negotiate directly with certain digital services while still remaining in these PROs for licensing broadcasting and retail music users).

With this talk of reform of the consent decrees, Congress, particularly the Senate Judiciary Committee under the leadership of Senator Lindsey Graham, has reportedly stepped in, telling DOJ not to move to change the consent decrees without giving Congress the chance to intervene and devise a replacement system.  In fact, under the recently passed Music Modernization Act, notice to Congress is required before the DOJ acts.  Already, both the PROs and user’s groups are staking out sides.  What are they asking for?
Continue Reading ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees Under Review – How Performing Rights Organizations, Antitrust Policy and Statutory Licenses Could Create a Controversy

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?
Continue Reading Magistrate Rules RMLC Suit Against GMR Should Not Be Litigated in Pennsylvania – What Does that Mean for Radio Companies?

Global Music Rights, commonly known as GMR, is the newest Performing Rights Organization (PRO) in the US music business, licensing public performance rights to musical compositions of songwriters as diverse as various members of the Eagles to Pharrell Williams to George Gershwin. As we wrote here, in December, they offered a temporary license to the radio industry to allow radio stations to play their music if the stations pay a royalty reportedly based on a percentage of what stations pay to ASCAP and BMI. That license, which was accepted by many radio stations, expires at the end of September. Many stations were concerned as to what would happen on October 1, and whether they could continue to play GMR music. This week, that question was answered when it was announced that GMR has offered to extend the license for another 6 months at the same rates stations are now paying.

While this extension may answer the question of what happens on October 1, it certainly does not resolve all GMR issues. It seems pretty clear that, unless there is a major breakthrough, GMR and the Radio Music License Committee (the organization that negotiates performance royalties for commercial radio operators) will not come to an agreement on rates before the end of September. As we wrote here, RMLC has sued GMR, asking that a court make them subject to an antitrust consent decree much like SESAC where rates, if they cannot be voluntarily negotiated, would be set through arbitration (see our article on the results of the recent RMLC-SESAC arbitration here). GMR has countersued (see our article here), and litigation continues as it may well for years absent a settlement.
Continue Reading GMR Offers Commercial Radio 6 Month Extension of Interim License to Play Their Songs

Commercial radio broadcasters have been seeing numerous communications over the last week about Global Music Rights (GMR) and its seemingly contentious music royalty negotiations with the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC). Many stations are confused about this controversy and what it is all about. The 5 questions below, and the links at the end of the questions, try to shed some light on the issues. Stations need to carefully consider their options, and seek advice where necessary, to determine what they will do by January 31 with respect to the interim license that GMR has offered to stations. The questions below hopefully provide some background on these issues.

 What is GMR and why isn’t the music they represent covered by the other organizations like BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC?

 GMR is a new performing rights organization. Like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, they represent songwriters and collect royalties from music users for the public performance of these songwriter’s compositions. They will collect not just from radio, but from all music users – they have already reached out to business music services that provide the music played in retail stores, restaurants and other businesses and no doubt have or will license other companies that make music available to the public. Most songwriters represented by GMR used to be represented by ASCAP or BMI, but these songwriters have withdrawn from ASCAP and BMI and joined GMR, allegedly to attempt to increase the amounts that they are paid for the use of the songs that they have written. For radio, these withdrawals became effective on January 1 of this year, when the old license agreements between ASCAP and BMI and the commercial radio industry expired.

What does a station need to, in order to protect itself while negotiations are going on?

Because the penalties for playing a song without a license can be as much at $150,000 per song, stations either need to purge all GMR music from their stations or sign a license agreement with GMR. If you decide to purge their music from your stations, don’t forget about music that may appear in commercials or syndicated programming. Also remember that we are talking about the musical composition, not the recording of the song by any particular band or singer. Even the broadcast of a high school band playing a GMR song at half time of some football game, or the broadcast of a local middle school choral concert, could trigger the royalty obligation to GMR.
Continue Reading Background on the GMR/RMLC Dispute – 5 Questions on the Basics of the Controversy