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Radio Trade Group Seeks to Use Music Modernization Act Against ASCAP & BMI

The Radio Music License Committee filed a petition to change how rate proceedings are conducted.

The Radio Music License Committee, which represents radio stations across the country, is taking a new tactic in its ongoing battle over songwriter royalties.

In an apparent move to throw a wrench into the proceedings at the National Music Publishers’ Association annual meeting in New York on Wednesday (June 15), the RMLC filed a petition in the Federal Southern District of New York to hold consolidated rate proceedings before a single designated judge. That would, in effect, pit performance rights organizations ASCAP and BMI against each other, if the motion is approved.

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The RMLC’s move takes advantage of the Music Modernization Act that passed in 2018 and included a provision moving rate hearings for the PROs to a revolving roster of Southern District judges, if the PROs can’t reach agreement on rates with the RMLC. Traditionally, Judge Louis Stanto has heard rate trials for BMI and Judge Denise Cote for ASCAP. Now, by asking the court to designate a single judge, the RMLC’s plan appears to be to have BMI and ASCAP argue against one another over market share and thus what percentage of radio advertising each should be paid.

In response to the filing, BMI said in a statement, “We are astonished that the RMLC has decided to bring an unprecedented joint action against BMI and ASCAP, relying on a gross mischaracterization of the Music Modernization Act. We are also disappointed that the RMLC opted to commence this action rather than engage in negotiations with BMI. We will vigorously oppose the improper joint action and look forward to establishing the significant value of the BMI repertoire to radio before the BMI rate court.“

Likewise, ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said in a statement, “The litigation filed today is squarely aimed at reducing what powerful RMLC radio stations pay songwriters, who are the lifeblood of the radio industry. The RMLC is weaponizing their market power to punish the songwriters whom it relies upon for its business. ASCAP will vigorously fight for the right of our members to be paid fairly.”