Radio Group Signs Five-Year Deal with Songwriting Organization (While Suing Another)

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The Radio Music License Committee (RMLC), an organization that represents more than 10,000 terrestrial radio stations in the U.S. (90 percent of the total), has signed a five-year agreement on the rate it pays members of the performance rights organization ASCAP to play their compositions on the radio. The contract, which covers 10.5 million compositions, will give ASCAP members an increase in terrestrial and certain digital royalties.

"We are confident that our new agreement will provide enhanced financial benefits to ASCAP songwriters, composers and music publishers," ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews writes in a statement provided to Billboard. "Reaching a voluntary agreement with the terrestrial radio industry enables ASCAP to stabilize and grow revenues for our members while continuing to aggressively advocate for regulatory reform to modernize the music licensing system.”

RMLC chairman Ed Christian says of the deal: “This agreement demonstrates how the creative and music user communities can work together in good faith to produce an outcome that is positive for both sides."

It's hard not to interpret Christian's statement as an oblique reference to the legal battle his organization recently instigated. The RMLC took Global Music Rights (GMR), the U.S.'s newest performance rights organization, founded by Irving Azoff in 2013, to court in mid-November, accusing it of monopolistic practices. The RMLC alleges GMR is trying to charge artificially inflated licensing rates for its small, but highly influential, catalog of songwriters, which includes John Lennon, Drake, Pharrell Williams, Metallica and George Gershwin. GMR's clientele represents 0.006 percent of all registered American songwriters.

"The radio industry has faced a serious challenge in terms of restoring reasonable license fee levels during difficult economic times and in the face of proliferating music licensing agencies," the RMLC said in a statement after it filed its suit.

(RMLC members are being helped through this difficult period thanks to one significant economic advantage in this country -- stations need not pay rights holders to play sound recordings -- only for song compositions. The other countries in the world where this is the case are North Korea, Iran and China. A bill that attempts to redress this, the "Fair Play, Fair Pay Act," was introduced to Congress last year but has been stalled in committee since May.)

In response to the RMLC's suit, GMR filed its own in an attempts to point the same legal gun back on the radio organization, accusing the RMLC of "collusive tactics to depress [the] prices" that radio stations pay songwriters.