SiriusXM announced that is has filed a legal action, including antitrust claims, against SoundExchange and A2IM (the American Association of Independent Music – the association of independent record labels), charging, according to a press release, these two organizations "with unlawfully interfering in SiriusXM’s efforts to secure, through a competitive market, copyrights critical to its business. The complaint contends that the conduct violates federal antitrust, as well as New York state law." The claim is essentially that these defendants conspired to prevent SiriusXM from negotiating direct licenses with musicians, licenses that could take music out of the royalty scheme administered by the Copyright Royalty Board, where royalties are paid to SoundExchange. We wrote about the attempts by SiriusXM to negotiate such direct licenses, and the opposition of music groups to these agreements, last year.
Why would SoundExchange and A2IM oppose direct music licensing? One reason is that music licenses that are directly negotiated between music users and rights holders are traditionally the best evidence of the value of music. In recent rate court cases involving performing rights organizations, direct licenses formed crucial evidence of the value of music rights. In cases dealing with ASCAP and BMI royalties for "business establishment" or "background music" services, evidence of direct licenses at rates significantly lower than previously established resulted in court decisions dropping rates by as much as two-thirds from the rates that ASCAP and BMI had previously been charging. Were SiriusXM to be successful in its suit, and if it is in fact able to negotiate direct music licenses for substantial catalogs of music at rates lower than what it has paid under previous rate decisions, it would presumably introduce such evidence in proceedings before the Copyright Royalty Board (which is now in the process of setting the rates for the public performance of sound recordings by SiriusXM over its satellite service for the next 5 years), and argue that these direct deals are the best evidence of what a willing buyer and willing seller would agree to in a competitive marketplace. While the rates set by the CRB for SiriusXM are not like Internet radio rates and established solely based on a willing buyer, willing seller test, the question of marketplace rates is still a very important component to any CRB decision setting those rates (see our article here on the rates that SiriusXM currently pays to SoundExchange and the standard used to set such rates).