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Broadcasters Slam DOJ's Support of Irving Azoff's Global Music Rights in Licensing Battle

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The advocacy organization airs its support of the Radio Music Licensing Committee.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has thrown its proverbial hat in the ring in the ongoing legal battle between the Radio Music Licensing Committee (RMLC) and Irving Azoff’s performing rights organization Global Music Rights (GMR).

The RMLC, which negotiates licensing fees for around 10,000 U.S. radio stations representing roughly 90 percent of the U.S. market, sued GMR in 2016 for setting “extortionate” licensing rates for its artists, which include such powerful figures as Bruce Springsteen, Drake, Pharrell Williams and Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder (GMR subsequently filed its own suit against the RMLC for illegally capping licensing fees paid to songwriters). The two parties have since been operating under an interim licensing agreement pending a legal resolution.

On Jan. 14, the NAB filed a Motion for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief with the U.S. District Court in California, asking the court to allow them — a non-party to the litigation — to weigh in on the case. The request, along with the accompanying brief, criticized the Department of Justice’s December 2019 brief in support of GMR, which was launched by Azoff in 2013 as an alternative to ASCAP and BMI, the long-established performing rights organizations that sell music licenses to radio stations. In that brief, the DOJ suggested that the RMLC had been engaging in anti-competitive practices.

In its own brief, the NAB argues that the Department of Justice -- which has historically been active in enforcing antitrust laws against ASCAP and BMI, not the other way around -- offered no explanation for its “unjustified and unwarranted” shift in favor of those organizations. It further states that despite the DOJ’s long history of upholding the RMLC’s right to operate as a “buying collaboration” -- it points out that the department has previously called the RMLC a “pro-competitive” organization -- it has now abandoned that precedent by dismissing it as “a form of cartel” and urging the judge in the case to reject some of the RMLC’s arguments in the case.

Citing language contained in GMR’s own suit, the NAB further lays out the argument for the RMLC as a pro-competitive entity, refuting the DOJ’s recent characterization. “GMR’s own complaint gives ample proof that music licensing is complex, difficult, and time-consuming, and that licensee collaboration” – a term meant to denote the RMLC – “would have obvious benefits,” the brief reads.

Elsewhere in the filing, the NAB notes that it is “unorthodox” for the DOJ to intervene in private litigation, particularly at the pleading stage.

As of now, the court has not accepted the NAB's request.

Speaking on behalf of GMR, Dan Petrocelli of law firm O’Melveny & Myers told Billboard that "the NAB’s position that the RMLC should be permitted to fix prices is dead wrong."

Though RMLC initially filed suit in Pennsylvania, in April the case was moved to California after Judge C. Darnell Jones II ruled he did not have "personal jurisdiction" over GMR in the case. That development came as a victory for GMR, which had accused the RMLC of filing in Pennsylvania to gain a “tactical advantage.” A trial date has since been set for November 2020.

The NAB represents broadcast TV networks and over 8,300 terrestrial radio stations. It was heavily involved in the development and passage of the landmark Music Modernization Act, which deals with the relationship between performing rights organizations and content licensees.


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