The radio industry and Global Music Rights have told a federal judge in California that they intend to “take dozens more depositions” in the ongoing antitrust fight over how much broadcasters should pay to the performance rights organization. It is for that reason that U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter has signed-off on a request that will push several deadlines into 2022.
Based on the current schedule, Hatter will allow the discovery process to continue through next April with the final pre-trial hearing set for next July. If all goes as planned, the trial dates will be set at that hearing. But based on the typically crowded calendar that federal judges keep, that may not get underway until 2023.
The glimmer of good news for anyone hoping for a quick resolution is that, at least for the moment, COVID is no longer causing significant delays in the discovery process. Both the Radio Music License Committee and GMR had previously said the pandemic was making it difficult to fly expert witnesses and others to Los Angeles for depositions. The current timetable will give them until April to wrap up that process.
For stations, the net effect is the status quo will continue. In March 2020, just prior to the COVID lockdowns, GMR switched from offering radio stations six-month interim deals to license the music in the performance rights organization’s repertoire to annual agreements. This year’s came with a 20% rate increase for commercial stations versus the prior interim deal.
Some broadcasters have opted to sign deals directly with GMR in order to have some clarity on what their royalty payments will be. Audacy joined the list in April, giving them access to GMR’s catalog of hit songs from artists such as Nicki Minaj, Drake, Bruce Springsteen and Prince across all their on-air and digital platforms. iHeartMedia also has a direct deal with GMR.
The Radio Music License Committee is engaged in a four-year court battle over antitrust allegations. The faceoff began in November 2016 when the RMLC filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court in Philadelphia alleging GMR violated federal law when it allegedly created an “artificial monopoly” to squeeze higher rates from stations. Two weeks later GMR replied with an antitrust lawsuit of its own, which contended the radio consortium is essentially an “illegal cartel.” In April 2019 the Philadelphia case was dismissed and the two sides have been doing battle in Los Angeles.