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GMR hating radio group seeks injunction over its Pennsylvanian problem

By | Published on Tuesday 25 July 2017

Irving Azoff

The legal battle between Irving Azoff’s mini performing rights organisation Global Music Rights and America’s Radio Music License Committee is hotting up, and it was already emitting quite a lot of heat. The RMLC now wants an injunction forcing GMR to provide interim licences to radio stations in Pennsylvania.

As previously reported, the RMLC represents the US radio industry in the music licensing domain, while GMR is a boutique performing rights organisation representing the performing rights in the songs of a small group of songwriters who have opted out of the bigger US collecting societies like BMI and ASCAP.

Because BMI and ASCAP both represent such large catalogues of songs, they are regulated by the US Department Of Justice via the infamous consent decrees, which are designed to overcome competition law concerns. It means a rate court can intervene when licensees can’t agree royalty terms with either society. The other US PRO – SESAC – although not regulated by consent decree, also allows third party mediation on royalty disputes as a result of settlements in past legal battles with groups of licensees.

The American radio industry wants the much newer GMR to also accept such third party mediation, and began legal action against the organisation last year. The RMLC accuses GMR of exploiting a monopoly, something the rights organisations refutes on the basis it represents a modest catalogue of songs.

That litigation continues to go through the motions. Meanwhile, GMR has started doing licensing deals directly with individual radio stations, rather than via the RMLC.

The music rights group said in a statement earlier this year that it was the RMLC itself, via its legal action, who stated that “going forward, GMR must approach each radio station owner directly and individually to make deals”. The PRO added: “GMR did so and we’ve entered hundreds of licences with radio stations”.

However, there was a footnote to that statement. The RMLC’s lawsuit against GMR was filed with the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania. What did that mean? Well, GMR said in its statement: “Due to pending litigation with the RMLC … we cannot negotiate or enter licences with stations owned by companies headquartered or based in Pennsylvania”.

That is a bit of a problem for said radio stations, because their existing licences to broadcast songs now controlled by GMR expire on 30 Sep. And without a licence from the PRO they wouldn’t be able to play songs written by the likes of Billy Idol, Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, Bryan Adams, Cathy Dennis, Drake, Don Henley, Ira Gershwin, John Lennon, Prince, Ryan Tedder and Smokey Robinson.

The RMLC claims that GMR is penalising radio stations in Pennsylvania because they have supported its litigation, and also because the performing rights organisation would rather fight its lawsuit in the Californian courts. Hence it’s legal filing last week.

The committee said that GMR intended to maintain its position on the granting, or not, of licences to radio stations in Pennsylvania “unless these stations and the RMLC relinquish important legal rights against GMR”. The radio grouping added that: “To this end, the RMLC has asked the federal court in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to enter a preliminary injunction order preventing GMR from engaging in these overtly coercive actions while the RMLC’s lawsuit proceeds”.

It went on: “Further, the RMLC’s motion requests that the court order GMR to continue to offer interim music performance licences, to those radio stations who elect to take one, on identical terms to those interim licences already in effect for the past several months. That relief would prevent GMR from further inordinate pressure on the radio industry while the federal court resolves the RMLC’s antitrust claims against GMR”.

Needless to say, GMR is not impressed with the RMLC’s latest legal attack. It said in response: “The RMLC’s latest motion is yet another waste of the court’s time and an attempt to bully songwriters into accepting below-market-rate payments for their music. GMR continues to freely offer interim licenses to radio stations; our attempt to offer licenses to stations based in Pennsylvania was rejected by the RMLC itself prior to the filing of this motion. We are confident the court will see through these baseless allegations”.