[UPDATED] When Irving Azoff launched Global Music Rights, he promised to battle what many see as too low payments from Pandora, YouTube and other free music streamers, and an impressive group of songwriter's signed on. But a group representing 10,000 U.S. radio stations, say Azoff's tactics are “anti-competitive."
By Dave Brooks of touring industry new service Amplify
A group representing 10,000 commercial radio stations has filed a lawsuit against Irving Azoff’s Global Music Rights, hoping to force the performance rights organization to submit to Department of Justice-controlled pricing, similar to other PROs ASCAP and BMI.
GMR was created in 2014 by Azoff and Madison Square Garden Entertainment as a way to generate more revenue for its songwriters. Unlike other PROs, GMR was not governed by a 75-year-old consent decree that controlled how much it charged radio stations, venues, restaurants and other commercial music users for the performance of music within its repertoire. Hoping to seize on artist dissatisfaction over complaints about low payments from digital services like Pandora and YouTube, Azoff was able to sign high profile songwriters like “Pharrell Williams, Ryan Tedder, Benny Blanco and the country songwriter Shane McAnally, and the estates of Lennon and Ira Gershwin,” according to the New York Times.
“anticompetitive behavior that, if unchecked, would allow GMR to charge the U.S. commercial radio industry monopoly prices to publicly perform musical works..."
The lack of DOJ oversight allowed GMR to charge higher rates for its songwriters, causing groups like the Radio Music License Committee to cry foul that GMR was engaging in “anticompetitive behavior that, if unchecked, would allow GMR to charge the U.S. commercial radio industry monopoly prices to publicly perform musical works in the GMR repertory,” according to a press release from the group.
The suit comes after a three-year legal battle between RMLC and SESAC that ended in a settlement last year in which SESAC agreed to pay $3.5 million in legal costs and change the way it negotiated rates and submit itself to judicial oversight.
The RMLC suit against GMR alleges that Azoff’s organization “has created and maintained an unlawful monopoly over the works in its repertory” and is seeking injunctive relief for GMR to “submit to a judicial rate-making procedure comparable to what the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI impose.” RMLC is also seeking a preliminary injunction to force GMR to charge radio stations lower rates while the litigation is pending.
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by the law firm of Latham & Watkins, the same firm used by Live Nation for several high profile cases including a recent lawsuit filed against the company by Songkick.
RMLC Chairman, Ed Christian, commented that “resorting to litigation is never a first option for the RMLC. This legal process will undoubtedly prove to be taxing in terms of the amount of labor and expense involved. Yet, we feel that GMR’s exorbitant fee demands are out of balance with their competitors and would do irreparable harm to our industry and this has left us with no other alternative.”
A copy of the legal complaint was not available at press time.