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RMLC Files Antitrust Complaint Against SESAC

Broadcast group says music rights organization charges radio ‘exorbitant rates’

The Radio Music License Committee has filed an antitrust complaint in federal court against SESAC, alleging the public performance-right licensing agency is acting as a monopoly, forcing commercial broadcasters to pay exorbitant rates to publicly perform musical works in the SESAC repertory.

The action comes as the RMLC is fresh off legal settlements that led to lower rates for radio with ASCAP and BMI.

Noting that the lawsuit will undoubtedly prove to be taxing in terms of the labor and money involved, RMLC Chairman Ed Christian, who’s also CEO of Saga Communications, said the organization felt it had no choice but to go forward with litigation. “We feel that SESAC’s pattern of increasingly exorbitant rates imposed on our industry without resort to a fair process has left us with no other alternative.”

ASCAP and BMI are subject to consent decrees established with the Department of Justice, which prevent monopoly pricing because they permit music users to apply to federal court to resolve rate disputes the parties cannot resolve voluntarily, according to the RMLC, which says SESAC is privately-held and so far has escaped similar pricing limits.

RMLC seeks injunctive relief, requiring, among other things, that SESAC submit to a judicial rate-making procedure comparable to what the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI impose.

The RMLC complaint follows the class action antitrust lawsuit that the local television industry filed against SESAC in late 2009. That lawsuit remains pending, following the Federal District Court’s decision to deny SESAC’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Latham & Watkins filed the RMLC complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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