Radio Trade Group RMLC Entering Rate Court Proceedings With


While the Radio Music Licensing Committee awaits an appeals court decision in its so-far unsuccessful attempt to combine rate court proceedings with ASCAP and BMI under a single judge, the trade group has filed federal petitions to begin the processes separately in the Southern District of New York.

Usually, such rate proceedings petitions are initiated after negotiations between the performance rights organizations and the RMLC prove fruitless. Under these petitions, the PROs will each make the case for what rate it thinks their songwriters and publishers are entitled to receive when their songs are played on the radio. This time out, for the period of 2022-2026, the RMLC is seeking to maintain the same rates it had under the prior agreement which covered 2017-2021.

In July 2022, the RMLC tried to get ASCAP and BMI combined into a single rate proceeding, thus showing its hand that it felt rate negotiations had failed. For decades, each PRO had its own separate rate proceeding, but about seven or eight years ago, the RMLC began a new rate court strategy of trying to assign market share to the four U.S. PROs — ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and Global Music Rights — in attempt to keep the rates in parity with market share, irrespective of each PRO’s song catalog. In filing its petition to consolidate the rate proceedings to the Southern District of New York, which oversees both rate proceedings and the ASCAP and BMI consent decrees, the RMLC said the act was justified by the Music Modernization Act of 2018 that changed how the the Southern District assigns the rate court proceeding.

The step to combine the rate proceedings into one was seen by some music industry executives as a further attempt to pursue that rate strategy. Having a single judge, instead of bifurcated rate court proceedings, could benefit the RMLC because it would likely pit BMI and ASCAP against each other, vying for a higher rate than the other with both PROs arguing over market share.

But in May this year, Southern District Court Judge Stanton ruled against the RMLC’s consolidation petition so the radio trade group subsequently appealed that decision. The Second District Appeals Court has yet to issue a ruling on the RMLC motion, but in the meantime, the RMLC is getting the ball rolling with the rate court by filing amended petitions on BMI on Aug. 10 and on ASCAP on Tuesday.

Despite filing petitions for the two rate court proceedings, the RMLC petition for the ASCAP rate court proceeding says that if the Second Circuit Appeals Court ultimately agrees with the RMLC position to combine the two rate court proceedings into one, “it reserves all rights at the appropriate time” to pursue a unitary action against ASCAP and BMI.

The ASCAP rate proceeding covers the current five-year term which began on Jan. 1, 2022. In the prior term (2017-2021), RMLC said it paid a combined 3.51% of net revenue as a royalty pool for the two PROs, with ASCAP getting 1.73% of that based on market share claims it made at the time — which the RMLC now says was “a representation that turned out to be false.” Meanwhile, BMI received 1.78% of radio stations’ net revenue.

Nevertheless, in May 2022, according to the petition, the RMLC asked ASCAP and BMI if they would be willing to roll forward the combined 3.51% of net revenue royalty pool, provided that ASCAP and BMI would agree on a mechanism for assessing each of their market shares.

Although the rate level would be the same, the RMLC implies it is actually an increase because the combined ASCAP and BMI share of total performances on RMLC stations likely has diminished since when the prior agreements began, the RMLC argues in its petition.

Meanwhile, it looks like BMI is requesting a rate increase from 1.78% to 2.95%, according to what the RMLC states in the BMI petition; while the RMLC ASCAP petition doesn’t disclose the rate ASCAP is seeking.

The RMLC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“The RMLC would rather continue to waste time and money on expensive litigation than simply paying songwriters a fair royalty for the use of their music,” ASCAP CEO Elizabeth Matthews said in a statement. “It’s not that complicated. Simply treat music creators who support your successful and profitable businesses with dignity and respect and everyone wins.”

While the PROs and the RMLC wait for the rate court proceedings to make a determination, all parties have agreed to an interim rate that allows radio to continue to play music without copyright infringement.

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