European independent labels and MTV Networks Europe (MTVNE) today (March 24) said they are attempting to broker a last-minute deal to end their dispute over video licensing payments.

European independent labels and MTV Networks Europe (MTVNE) today (March 24) said they are attempting to broker a last-minute deal to end their dispute over video licensing payments.

The move comes after talks appeared to have broken down between Viacom-owned MTVNE and U.K. indies, which are represented by Video Performance Ltd. (VPL). Through reciprocal agreements with collecting societies in other European territories, VPL also collects royalties for broadcast of its members' repertoire in those markets.

MTVNE had previously said that it would cease broadcasting non-licensed repertoire after March 31. The only exceptions would be for videos from indies that had struck direct deals with the company, a scenario that had indies anxious about prospective "cherry-picking" by MTVNE. All five majors already have direct deals with the broadcaster.

At the heart of the dispute is the amount of royalties MTVNE wants to pay VPL-represented labels for the broadcast of videos. A previous deal expired at the end of 2002. Although an agreement in principle was subsequently reached that would retroactively license material that aired on MTVNE in 2003, it remains unsigned.

Under the previous agreement, MTVNE paid VPL a yearly sum of £1.9 million ($3.5 million). VPL rejected MTVNE's subsequent proposal of £840,000 ($1.5 million) per year, to would run for an indefinite period.

Earlier today, in an open letter to London-based MTVNE president Brent Hansen, indie labels protested against the "totally unacceptable" terms offered by MTVNE. "Independent artists and record companies object to the high-handed way in which MTV is trying to reduce its costs." The letter was revealed during a press conference in London.

It goes on, "We find the MTV claim that it values independent music to be totally at odds with its actions. If MTV loves music and artists, this is not the way to treat them." The heads of more than 280 European indie labels signed the letter.

MTVNE COO Simon Guild tells Billboard.biz that there was contact between MTV and VPL today, following months of impasse. "We want to resolve this [issue] before the end of the month," Guild says. He adds that he does not expect the worst-case scenario, in which artists signed to indie labels will be dropped from MTV channels. "I'm not even considering it," he says. "We want to have a deal, have them on the channel and not see them disappear."

A VPL spokesperson confirms, "Following this morning's press conference, MTV has contacted us. We are pleased to say we're returning to the negotiating table."

After today's media briefing, Hansen issued his own open letter to indie labels. In it, he wrote: "In the interests of supporting the issues that the indies have raised and in a genuine effort to reach a resolution, we have decided to return to the negotiating table with the VPL. This is not just about the money; our invaluable relationship with the independent music community dictates that this is the right course."