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U.S. government backs recording artists in radio fight

Drake
Drake is one of a small roster of popular songwriters represented by Global Music Rights LLC , which is fighting a legal battle over compensation with the Radio Music Licensing Committee.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

The U.S. government has sided with a high-profile group of songwriters, from Drake to Justin Bieber, in a long-running court battle over how much they earn from radio play.

Two bodies, Global Music Rights, representing a small group of popular songwriters, and the Radio Music Licensing Committee, which represents some of the country’s largest radio stations, have been trading legal barbs over how much radio stations should pay songwriters for playing their music.

The Justice Department on Thursday filed a brief in which it challenged the committee’s arguments for dismissing Global Music Rights’ suit against the radio group.

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The department said that a California judge should reject arguments from the Radio Music Licensing Committee when considering the price-fixing case against the radio stations. If the judge agrees, the songwriters’ suit against the committee can proceed.

The move is a blow to the stations, after the licensing committee filed suit in 2016 alleging anticompetitive behavior by songwriters. Global Music Rights countersued, calling the committee a 78-year-old cartel that suppresses rates paid to songwriters in the $22-billion radio industry.

The filing “reaffirms the legal position of GMR and vindicates the rights of artists and songwriters to be free from illegal price-fixing by radio stations,” said Daniel Petrocelli, lead counsel for Global Music Rights. Representatives for the licensing committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Radio play is a big source of revenue for songwriters and the Nashville-based licensing committee represents some of the most powerful broadcasters.

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Irving Azoff, who manages Bon Jovi and Harry Styles, founded Los Angeles-based Global Music Rights in 2013 as a way to raise compensation for songwriters. The Radio Music Licensing Committee negotiates licenses on behalf of radio stations.

While Justice Department attorneys took no position on the facts alleged, they found fault in arguments from the Radio Music Licensing Committee, arguing that a buyer’s cartel can be “equally destructive of competition as a seller’s cartel,” even though these cases come up less frequently. The Justice Department said the licensing committee was wrong to argue that the songwriters’ group would have to prove its intent to cause harm by price fixing.

The Radio Music Licensing Committee first sued Global Music Rights in 2016 in Philadelphia, alleging that GMR had attempted to “force commercial radio stations to pay historically high-priced music performance licenses which the RMLC believed to be anticompetitive in nature,” according to a statement on RMLC’s website. The fight has since been moved to California. A trial date is set for November 2020.


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