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Commercial Broadcasters March Toward a Second Extension of GMR Interim License

Over the past 14 months, we’ve kept our readers updated on the music licensing fight between the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) and Global Music Rights (GMR).

The authors are with law firm Fletcher, Heald and Hildreth, on whose blog this article originally appeared.

Over the past 14 months, we’ve kept our readers updated on the music licensing fight between the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) and Global Music Rights (GMR). This, of course, started when the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement on the terms of a license that would allow the commercial radio stations represented by the RMLC to perform publicly the musical works in GMR’s catalog.

As the end of 2016 approached without a license in place, those radio stations faced four undesirable alternatives:

  1. pay the fees demanded by GMR (which the RMLC discourages given how high those fees are);
  2. attempt to avoid playing any GMR compositions (which could be hard given the prominent names that figure in GMR’s catalog, the fluid state of that catalog, and the difficulty of clearing performances in commercials and third-party programming);
  3. continue to play GMR music without attempting to negotiate a license (a risky and unadvisable venture given how high infringement damages can run); and
  4. challenge GMR’s anticompetitive conduct in a lawsuit.

As regular CommLawBlog readers know, the RMLC chose no. 4, filing a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Nov. 18, 2016. The complaint was accompanied by a Motion for Preliminary Injunction seeking to prevent GMR from charging commercial radio stations monopoly prices during the pendency of the litigation. The litigation is still ongoing, with the most recent update being a Nov. 29, 2017 recommendation from a United States Magistrate Judge that the RMLC’s antitrust lawsuit be dismissed due to lack of personal jurisdiction over GMR in Pennsylvania and refiled in California. There, GMR responded to RMLC’s suit by filing its own responsive antitrust lawsuit against the RMLC.

Of course, the filing of a lawsuit itself didn’t automatically permit commercial radio stations to perform publicly GMR-represented musical works. But GMR granted that permission in late 2016 when the RMLC and GMR reached an interim license agreement that would allow GMR-represented commercial radio stations to broadcast and webcast GMR music through Sept. 30, 2017, as long as the station opted into the interim license by Jan. 31, 2017. On Aug. 8, 2017, this license was extended for six months – through March 31, 2018 – on the same terms and conditions for any station who opted into the extension by the Sept. 30, 2017 deadline.

As the deadline for this extended interim license now approaches, the RMLC and GMR have agreed on a second extension to Sept. 30, 2018. Like the first extension, the agreement merely continues the interim license under the current terms and conditions (including price).

Unlike the first extension, GMR may take the initiative this time around and contact interim-licensed stations before the beginning of March. According to an RMLC press release issued on Feb. 9, 2018:

GMR has advised RMLC that, beginning no later than March 1, 2018, GMR intends to contact individual stations to offer this interim license extension. If you wish to accept this interim license extension offer but have not heard from GMR by March 1, 2018, please contact GMR directly before your current license expires on March 31, 2018.

If you are a commercial radio station who did opt into the interim license and then extended that license, expect to hear from GMR about this extension. If you find yourself in March without contact from GMR, you should affirmatively reach out to GMR to ensure that your interim license does not expire (which would leave you exposed to liability for copyright infringement if you broadcast or webcast GMR works).