The Radio Music Licensing Committee (RMLC) has asked a federal court in Philadelphia to order a preliminary injunction against Global Music Rights (GMR), the performance rights organization it filed an antitrust lawsuit against last November. In the latest legal volley between the two parties, the RMLC says it asked the court to prevent GMR from engaging in “overtly coercive actions” as its lawsuit against the PRO continues.
Specifically the RMLC, which represents the vast majority of commercial radio stations in the U.S. on music licensing matters, says it’s concerned over a statement posted by GMR on its website. The GMR statement reads in part, “Due to pending litigation with the RMLC, we cannot negotiate or enter licenses with stations owned by companies headquartered or based in Pennsylvania.”
While that would apply to several companies, chief among them is Entercom, which is based in the Philadelphia area. That would mean GMR is refusing to negotiate licenses with any of the company’s 120 radio stations in 23 markets. GMR’s songwriter clients include Bruno Mars, Bruce Springsteen, Drake, John Lennon and others. In a press release issued Monday, RMLC says GMR “has now made clear that it will maintain this position unless these stations and the RMLC relinquish important legal rights against GMR.”
The RMLC also worries that the PRO, formed by music industry giant Irving Azoff in 2013, could broaden its target to stations in any of, or all of, the 50 states. So while it is currently focusing on stations owned by Pennsylvania-based or headquartered companies, the RMLC says its “true concern” is for all radio companies and stations since “any State or group of stations might be GMR’s next target.”
In addition to the injunction, the RMLC has asked the court to order GMR to continue to offer interim licenses to radio stations who elect to take one, on identical terms to those licenses 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,” RMLC says.
In a statement, GMR called the RMLC motion “frivolous,” baseless” and “a transparent attempt to create jurisdiction in Pennsylvania – a state where neither organization has offices or employees, where no GMR songwriters or publishers live, and where no relevant meetings ever took place.” The PRO went on to describe the RMLC filing as “another waste of the court’s time and an attempt to bully songwriters into accepting below-market-rate payments for their music.” GMR says it continues to offer interim licenses to radio stations and claims its attempt to offer licenses to stations based in Pennsylvania was rejected by the RMLC before it filed the injunction motion.
The filing is the latest in a legal back and forth that began in November 2016 when the RMLC filed an antitrust suit against GMR asking the Philadelphia court to move negotiations between the two entities into the same “rate court” process that is dictated by the Department of Justice’s consent decrees. Those work as a backstop if radio is unable to reach a deal with ASCAP or BMI. GMR’s response was to file a suit against the RMLC in Los Angeles, alleging the radio industry group is essentially an “illegal cartel.” GMR also filed its own motion to dismiss, asking the court in Philadelphia to toss out the RMLC’s case and if not, to consolidate the suit into the L.A. proceeding.
GMR has accused the RMLC of employing bullying tactics and alleged that it is suffering damages from “a boycott involving thousands of radio stations across the United States refusing to play GMR’s songs.”
While the courtroom battles inch forward in two states, under the terms of a court-sanctioned agreement between the RMLC and GMR a number of broadcasters have signed interim licensing deals to play music in the organization’s repertoire through Sept. 30 2017. While it didn’t provide any specific numbers, GMR earlier said the list includes several of the big operators such as Cumulus Media, CBS Radio, Cox Media Group, Emmis and Saga Communications. Two groups—iHeartMedia and Townsquare Media—had earlier signed licensing deals for more than 1,100 stations with GMR.
GMR hasn’t said publicly how much it is charging stations under the interim licenses or how it will calculate the rates charged broadcasters for the right to play musical compositions in its repertoire. But the RMLC has said in court filings that it aims to receive a total of $2.5 million per month under the interim arrangement.