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US radio industry settles rate dispute with collecting society BMI

By | Published on Friday 31 January 2020


The US radio industry has one less collecting society dispute to contend with. The Radio Music License Committee has reached a settlement deal with BMI after years of dispute over what royalties American radio stations should pay for playing songs written by the society’s members.

The dispute related to royalties due during the time period 2017-2021. The RMLC managed to secure a new deal with the other big song rights collecting society in the US – ie ASCAP – just before that period began in December 2016. But no deal could be reached with BMI before that time period kicked off. At least an agreement has now been reached before it ends. That’s something I suppose.

At the heart of the dispute was a disagreement about the market share of BMI’s songwriters, which impacts on what revenue share radio stations allocate to each collecting society. In 2016 the RMLC reckoned that ASCAP’s market share was bigger than BMI’s. For its part, BMI was critical of the RMLC’s maths.

With 2017 having the nerve of getting under way even though the RMLC and BMI had not reached an agreement, there was then an albeit short lived side dispute on what monies radio stations should pay the collecting society while the main dispute was still being fought out.

The dispute over what should be paid during the dispute was subsequently settled, but the dispute over what should be paid once there was no dispute continued. The whole thing went properly legal in May 2018.

But now a deal has been done. And while we don’t know the specifics, BMI says in a statement: “The new licence carries a rate that reflects the strength of BMI’s repertoire and its share of radio spins, which is higher than any other performing rights organisation”.

BMI boss man Mike O’Neill adds: “We’re pleased to reach an agreement with the RMLC that reflects a much more appropriate value for our affiliates’ music. While litigation is sometimes a necessary step, our preference is always to work out an amicable solution with our licensing partners while continually keeping the best interests of our songwriters top of mind. BMI looks forward to working with the RMLC to improve transparency in the marketplace and enhance the flow of information between our two organisations”.

Meanwhile the Chair of the RMLC, Ed Atsinger – who is also the CEO of Christian media firm Salem Media – says: “We are happy that our impasse with BMI has reached an amicable conclusion. The radio industry believes strongly that songwriters should be compensated fairly, and with BMI’s support, we hope that this deal will assist others in the music licensing community in determining fair rates for everyone on both sides”.

The deal, which is still subject to court approval, is retroactive to the start of 2017 and will also see the RMLC make a one-time payment to BMI to cover legal fees.

By settling with BMI, the RMLC can now focus on its long-running dispute with America’s mini-PRO Global Music Rights.

Bosses at GMR recently called on the court overseeing that case to ignore an intervention by the National Association Of Broadcasters earlier this month, which was critical of a US Department Of Justice intervention that supported the collecting society’s arguments.

GMR argues that the NAB and RMLC are both basically controlled by the same radio companies, so the NAB isn’t an independent interested party. Meanwhile the NAB’s arguments, GMR reckons, are “untimely, unhelpful and wrong”.

So, while the RMLC bust up with BMI might be over, it’s much more entertaining battle with GMR continues.