Sony/ATV Re-Ups With BMI

Sony/ATV Music Publishing, the largest music publisher in the world, has announced it will remain a part of the BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) blanket license, which means its entire catalog as well as the EMI Music Publishing catalog songs can be played as part of the hundreds of thousands of licenses given by BMI.

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Sony/ATV and its administered EMI Music Publishing catalog was the first to withdraw digital rights from the two largest U.S. performance rights societies, BMI and ASCAP on Jan. 1, 2013.

Other publishers, including Universal Music Publishing Group and BMG Chrysalis, subsequently withdrew their digital rights because they said the consent decree that the two performance rights organizations (PROs) signed with the U.S. Department of Justice left them unable to achieve market rates with their digital music services.

But separate court rulings last year, involving Pandora and the PROs, resulted in both BMI and ASCAP rate court judges deciding that partial withdrawal -- only taking out digital rights for example -- violated the consent decree. Both rulings said that publishers have to be all-in or all-out with rights to all their songs.

The BMI rate court ruling on the digital withdrawals came out on Dec. 18, leaving hundreds of thousands of licensees uncertain as to whether they were now suddenly copyright infringers, particularly as it applied to Sony/ATV and EMI Music Publishing, since they had withdrawn digital rights at the beginning of last year. Today’s announcement helps clarify the situation.

In a statement, BMI and Sony/ATV said their new agreement provides stability to the music publishing copyright marketplace while affording an opportunity for BMI and music publishers to seek regulatory and legislative change to protect the value of copyright for songwriters, composers and music publishers alike.

“Sony/ATV is proud to renew our relationship with BMI, which will continue to license the world's largest and most relevant music catalog to the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on music to drive their profits,” said Sony/ATV CEO Martin Bandier. “In the current digital environment, it is critical that we reform the current system which does not fairly compensate songwriters and composers. BMI is an important player in this fight.”

Behind the scenes, sources say that the PROs and music publishers have approached the Dept. of Justice about amending the consent decrees, which publishers privately say they hope will result in allowing partial withdrawal of rights from the PROs, such as the digital ones that both BMI and ASCAP rate courts just disallowed.

In re-upping with BMI, Sony/ATV gets to keep the efficiencies that the PRO provides while still maneuvering for the ability to achieve market rates from digital services. In the meantime, BMI is currently litigating streaming music license fee rates with Pandora.

Last week, Universal Music Publishing Group also resigned with BMI, after announcing it had signed a licensing deal with Pandora.

“We appreciate the vote of confidence from Sony/ATV and the faith our writers and composers place in us every day as their trusted broker,” said BMI CEO Michael O'Neill in a statement. “It is our privilege to represent the incredible writers and musical works in the Sony/ATV repertoire. We are dedicated to the mission to fairly value the rights of publishers and songwriters in today’s market.”

Beyond the rate court trial, the organization said it has worked with songwriter and music publisher groups to fight for a level playing field across the music industry. As part of this effort, BMI, songwriters and music publishers are seeking a marketplace-driven environment to set fees for mechanical and public performance rights.

Publishers say that the consent decree -- which allows non-interactive licensees to simply request a compulsory performance license and immediately get the ability to stream songs to their listeners before engaging in rate negotiations with the PROs -- creates an unfair field for setting marketing rates.