Radio Music License Committee Files Petition Against ASCAP and BMI Following GMR Legal Battle

  • Save

The Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) has officially filed a petition against performing rights organizations (PROs) ASCAP and BMI “for the determination of reasonable final license fees.”

The Radio Music License Committee – which settled a long-running legal battle with Irving Azoff’s Global Music Rights (GMR) PRO back in February – just recently submitted the firmly worded petition to a New York federal court.

Predictably, the 11-page-long legal document begins by reiterating that both ASCAP and BMI are subject to consent decrees. Among other things, these eight-decade-old decrees (which don’t extend to GMR and SESAC) dictate the pricing and operational specifics (instant access to music for licensees, five-year membership caps for creators, etc.) of ASCAP and BMI.

Lastly, regarding the decrees’ basics, the Department of Justice in January of 2021 once again refused to modify the measures – prompting immediate pushback from the music industry.

Bearing in mind the far-reaching (and longstanding) consent decrees, the Radio Music License Committee in its petition claimed that talks with both ASCAP and BMI “have not been successful and the parties remain far apart,” with the RMLC ostensibly seeking “reasonable license fees and terms” for the period spanning from 2022’s start to 2026’s end.

The prior licensing agreement between the RMLC and the PROs in question ran from 2017’s beginning until 2021’s end, per the petition, with a blanket-license rate of “1.73% of licensee net revenues” for ASCAP and 1.78 percent for BMI. The latter “claimed that its share of total performances on RMLC stations was higher than ASCAP’s,” according to the plaintiff.

The ASCAP percentage was based upon a “false and overstated” representation of the PRO’s market share, the RMLC maintains, and specifically that it “controlled, as of the date of execution in December 2016, 48.5% of the total interests (controlled by all the PROs in the aggregate) in the universe of musical works transmitted via RMLC station programming.”

Moreover, “the data available to RMLC demonstrates that the combined ASCAP and BMI share of total performances on RMLC stations has diminished since the time when the prior agreements were entered into,” the filing reads.

Nevertheless, “to avoid burdening” the court, the RMLC purportedly asked ASCAP and BMI last month whether they would roll over into the current period the licensing fee of 3.51 percent of net revenue – “provided that each of ASCAP and BMI would agree on a mechanism for assessing their relative shares of RMLC station performances that would govern how much of that 3.51%-of-revenue pool each of ASCAP and BMI would be entitled to,” the document states.

Needless to say, given the legal action, the PROs didn’t sign off on the suggested framework – “ASCAP rejected the proposal outlined above and BMI never responded.” In terms of the decision to petition against both entities in a sole filing, the RMLC said that the Music Modernization Act “permits a single judge to hear an application against ASCAP and BMI together” and that such a hearing will afford the radio representative “relief from being ‘whipsawed’ by ASCAP’s and BMI’s historic licensing practices.”

The whipsawing at hand refers particularly to past instances “where each PRO has been able to claim artificially high market shares without having to face the other PRO in the same proceeding,” per the RMLC.

BMI reached out to Digital Music News with a response to the RMLC’s petition, stating: “We are astonished that the RMLC has decided to bring an unprecedented joint action against BMI and ASCAP, relying on a gross mischaracterization of the Music Modernization Act. We are also disappointed that the RMLC opted to commence this action rather than engage in negotiations with BMI.

“We will vigorously oppose the improper joint action and look forward to establishing the significant value of the BMI repertoire to radio before the BMI rate court.”

Additionally, ASCAP emailed DMN a statement from CEO Elizabeth Matthews, who said: “The litigation filed today is squarely aimed at reducing what powerful RMLC radio stations pay songwriters, who are the lifeblood of the radio industry. The RMLC is weaponizing their market power to punish the songwriters whom it relies upon for its business. ASCAP will vigorously fight for the right of our members to be paid fairly.”