performing rights organization

Here are some of the regulatory developments of significance to broadcasters from the past week, with links to where you can go to find more information as to how these actions may affect your operations.

Global Music Rights (GMR) has sued three radio groups for allegedly playing GMR catalog songs but not paying the associated public performance royalties to GMR.  As we have written many times, GMR is a performing rights organization (a “PRO”) representing what they term in the complaints filed against these companies “an elite roster of just over 100 songwriters.” The complaints specifically note that the songwriters include Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, Drake, Pharrell Williams, John Lennon, and The Eagles.  The full list of songwriters and songs represented by GMR is available on their website here.  As these songwriters are no longer represented by ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, for a company to publicly perform any of these songwriters’ music, they either need a license from GMR or they need to directly license the music from the songwriters or their agents (or fit into one of the limited exemptions that we wrote about here, exceptions that would typically not cover commercial radio broadcasting).

The lawsuits seek $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. The allegations against one of the companies suggest that the company played over 100 GMR compositions more than 20,000 times without obtaining a license.  While courts have discretion to order far lower statutory damages than those being sought here, even the threat of such damages has 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 unauthorized, unlimited downloads of copyrighted music, but from radio companies that presumably are already paying other performing rights organizations for the use of music.
Continue Reading Lawsuits Filed Against Three Radio Companies Alleging That They are Playing Global Music Rights Songwriters Without a License – Background for the GMR Claims  

In recent months, lawsuits have been filed against streaming audio service Pandora by comedian Lewis Black, the estate of Robin Williams, and representatives of other comedians seeking public performance royalties for the underlying comedic work – not the recording of the comedy bit for which a royalty is already paid, but instead for the script of that comedic performance.  Reportedly, Spotify has pulled comedy recordings from its service to avoid such threats.  What is the issue here?  The claim in the lawsuits is that the authors of the script of any comedy bit have the right to control the performance of their works in the same way that composers of a song control the rights to use that song.  The argument is that, if these services are playing these comedy bits through a digital audio performance, not only do the comedians who are recorded performing such bits deserve a royalty, but a separate royalty should also be paid to those who wrote it.

In these lawsuits, the analogy is made to the copyrights for the performance of a song.  For music streamed by any digital audio company, there are two royalties that must be paid.  The composers of the music are paid for the performance of their work (both in the digital and analog worlds).  These payments are usually made through a performing rights organization (a “PRO”) which represents thousands (or sometimes millions) of composers and their publishing companies.  ASCAP, BMI and SESAC are the traditional PROs who, for radio and television, all have their rates reviewed for fairness under antitrust laws.  As we have written (see for instance our articles here and here), a new PRO for musical works, GMR, has recently settled litigation with the Radio Music License Committee and is assessing most commercial radio stations a royalty for the performance of music by the composers that it represents.  For digital performances, a royalty is also owned for the performance of the sound recording – the composition as recorded by a singer or band.  Through an act of Congress, all noninteractive digital performances (see our article here on the difference between interactive and noninteractive services) can be played by a digital music service by paying a “collective” that acts like a PRO by collecting royalties from those services that transmit the music to their listeners and distributing those royalties  to the performers and their record labels (as the labels usually own the copyright in the recording).  Since the sound recording digital performance royalty was first collected about two decades ago, SoundExchange has served as the “collective.”  The lawsuits by the comedians seek to collect these dual royalties from digital services that transmit comedy recordings to their listeners.  Why is this not covered by the royalties that services already pay?
Continue Reading Public Performance Royalties for Comedy Recordings? – New PROs Claim that Additional Royalties Are Due

In a press release issued today, the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) and performing rights organization Global Music Rights (GMR) announced that enough commercial radio stations signed the GMR licensing agreement to allow the settlement of the RMLC/GMR litigation to become effective.  As we wrote when the settlement was announced early last month,

According to a joint letter posted on the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) website, GMR and the RMLC are discussing  a settlement of their long-running litigation over the royalties that the commercial radio industry will pay for the public performance of music written by GMR composers.  We last wrote about GMR here when, earlier this year, they last extended their interim license offered to commercial radio stations, with a substantial increase in the amount that stations needed to pay to remain licensed during the litigation.  The joint letter says that the interim license will be extended for another 3 months while the parties work on this possible settlement.  Stations will not receive any direct notice about the need to extend their licenses from GMR.  Instead, stations are to go to the GMR website at https://globalmusicrights.com/interimextension to complete a form to remain licensed after the end of December.

As background, GMR is a new performing rights organization. Like ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, it represents songwriters and collects royalties from music users for the public performance of these songwriter’s compositions. GMR collects not only from radio stations, but from all music users – it has already reached out to business music services that provide the music played in retail stores, restaurants and other businesses, and no doubt has 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 in January 2017, when the old license agreements between ASCAP and BMI and the commercial radio industry expired.  Since then, radio stations have been signing interim licenses to play GMR music.
Continue Reading Another GMR Extension Offered for Commercial Radio Music Licenses – And a Possibility of a Settlement of the Litigation with the RMLC? 

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?

As business adapts to the pandemic so, too, do legal issues.  A couple have come to my attention in recent weeks that I thought bear passing on.  One deals with copyright concerns, the other with FCC matters about use of unlicensed FM transmitters.  Both arise as businesses adapt the way in which they deal with their customers – including how media companies deal with their audiences.

The copyright issues deal with music licensing matters.  Broadcasters are used to having performance licenses that allow them to broadcast music over the air and stream it on the Internet.  Venues for live music have similar licenses, as do hotels and meeting halls where conventions and other meetings take place – often involving the use of music.  But, as people are no longer frequenting these locations, businesses try to recreate their usual ambiance in an online environment using Zoom, Facebook Live, or one of the many other digital platforms that now exist.  If that ambiance includes music or other copyrighted materials, be sure that you have the rights to use those copyrighted materials in the new environment in which your business is operating.
Continue Reading Random Issues to Consider as Media Businesses Adapt to the New World of the Virus – Music Uses on Zoom and Other Platforms, Unlicensed FM Transmitters

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

In a very important proceeding we summarized here, the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is reviewing the antitrust consent decrees that govern ASCAP and BMI – the decrees that require that these performing rights organizations treat similarly situated licensees (and artists) in the same way and which allow a Court to review the reasonableness

The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division yesterday announced that it was starting a review of the ASCAP and BMI antitrust consent decrees that govern the United States’ two largest performing rights organizations for musical compositions (referred to as the “musical work”). The DOJ’s announcement of the initiation of the examination of the consent decrees poses a series of questions to which it invites interested parties – including users, songwriters, publishers and other interested parties – to file comments on the decrees, detailing which provisions are good and bad and, more broadly, whether there is a continuing need for the decrees at all. Comments are due on July 10.

This re-examination of the decrees has been rumored for many months. Back in March, we wrote about those rumors and the role that Congress may play in adopting replacement rules should the DOJ decide to fundamentally change the current provisions of the consent decrees. The DOJ itself just recently looked at the consent decrees, starting a review only 5 years ago with questions very similar to those it posed yesterday (see our post here on the initiation of the last review 5 years ago). That review ended with the DOJ deciding that only one issue needed attention, whether the decrees permitted “fractional licensing” of a song. We wrote about that complex issue here. That issue deals with whether, when a PRO gives a user a license to play a song, that user can perform the song without permission from other PROs when the song was co-written by songwriters who are members of different PROs. The DOJ suggested that permission from one PRO gave the user rights to the entire song, an interpretation of the decrees that was ultimately rejected by the rate courts reviewing the decrees (see our article here).   So, effectively, the multi-year review of the consent decrees that was just concluded led nowhere. But apparently the DOJ feels that it is time to do it all again. To fully understand the questions being asked, let’s look at what the consent decrees are, and why they are in place.
Continue Reading DOJ Starts Review of BMI and ASCAP Consent Decrees – Exploring the Background of the Issues