The Radio Music License Committee yesterday told members that Global Music Rights (“GMR”), the performing rights organization that began a few years ago to collect royalties for the public performance of songs written by a select number of popular songwriters (including Bruce Springsteen, members of the Eagles, Pharrell Williams and others who have withdrawn from ASCAP and BMI) has agreed to extend its interim license for commercial radio stations until March 31, 2021. The notice says that GMR will be contacting stations that signed the previous extension (through March 31 of this year) to extend the interim license for another year on the same terms now in place. If you don’t hear from GMR by March 15, the RMLC suggests that you reach out to GMR directly (do not contact RMLC as they cannot help) to inquire about this extension.
As we have written before (see our articles here, here and here), GMR and the RMLC are in protracted litigation over whether or not the rates set by GMR should be subject to some sort of antitrust review, as are the rates set by ASCAP, BMI and even SESAC (see our article here on the SESAC rates). GMR has counterclaimed, arguing that RMLC is a “buyer’s cartel” in violation of the antitrust laws. Earlier this year, the lawsuits were consolidated in a court in California, where litigation is ongoing (see our article here about the transfer). In our most recent article about the litigation, we noted that the court rejected motions from each party asking that the other’s claims be dismissed. Thus, unless there is a settlement, the case will go to trial. The decision to extend the interim license for a year, instead of the six-month period in previous extensions, may indicate that GMR at least expects that the litigation will continue.
In the interim, there is no authority to play the GMR music catalog other than through an interim license offered to all commercial stations, or individually negotiated licenses with the company. Commercial stations that play GMR music should either have an interim license or should discuss carefully with counsel their potential options and liabilities if they continue to play GMR music. Do not ignore the potential liability as, under copyright law, there are substantial “statutory damages” of up to $150,000 per song for any infringement. GMR has already sued one station group for not paying royalties (see our article here). So they are watching what broadcasters do. Note, however, that noncommercial broadcast stations are not covered by this license being offered by GMR to RMLC members, as public performance royalties for noncommercial broadcasting are set by the Copyright Royalty Board (see our article here for more details on the royalties for noncommercial stations). All stations should discuss with their counsel to determine what their best course of action is in connection with their obligations to pay GMR.