A Closer Look At the GMR-RMLC Dispute & Controversy

By: Scarinci Hollenbeck

There’s been a major controversy going on over the past year or so relating to the dispute between GMR, or Global Music Rights, and the RMLC, the Radio Music License Committee. This has caused confusion and consternation among radio stations who don’t understand what the dispute is about and how it applies to their need to pay royalties. Explore the specifics between the GMR-RMLC dispute, what it means for royalty payments, and how it affects the overall intellectual property landscape.

A Closer Look At the GMR-RMLC Dispute

Who Is GMR?

The first thing to understand is who GMR actually is. Global Music Rights is a new organization begun by industry powerhouse Irving Azoff, representing songwriters and composers, which joins other existing groups like SESAC, ASCAP and BMI. The organization exists to collect royalties for public performances of compositions.

Like the other rights organizations, GMR doesn’t just collect from radio, but from retail outlets, restaurants, bars, live performance venues and other locations that feature or make available music to public listeners. What makes GMR different from ASCAP and BMI, however, is that GMR is not bound by the consent decrees that ASCAP and BMI entered into with the Department of Justice in 1941. Such consent decrees regulate how the two rights organizations operate and prevent them from becoming monopolies. While there have been recent (unresolved) changes to the consent decrees, many of GMR’s clients have withdrawn from BMI, ASCAP or similar organizations in an effort to get more out of their royalties than they have in the past.

GMR-RMLC Dispute

The RMLC represents commercial radio stations in their negotiations with representatives of songwriters and performers. As a newcomer to this stage, the RMLC is still finding its feet with GMR. The latter organization is demanding much higher fees than prior organizations, which has led to the two being unable to come to a licensing agreement. RMLC has filed an antitrust suit against GMR and is seeking arbitration to resolve the issue.

In return, to allow for time to resolve the situation, GMR has issued a nine-month interim license, proposing interim rates to allow radio stations to continue playing songs from their artists. Failing to abide by the terms of this license could subject stations to copyright lawsuits.

What This Means For Radio Stations

Radio stations can suffer severe penalties for playing a song without paying the proper licensing royalties. These penalties can range up to $150,000 per instance of playing an unlicensed song. This means that until the GMR-RMLC dispute is over, radio stations must either come to a separate agreement with GMR or purge all representative music from their playlists.

This may be more difficult than it seems, as it includes the presence of music used in commercials and syndicated programs. GMR represents songwriters, not performers, which means even a licensed cover of a song can subject a station to copyright suits.

The Future of Composition Royalties

The RLMC settled a similar suit against SESAC in 2015, with both parties agreeing to a rate-setting arbitration, as SESAC is similarly not a party to the consent decrees referenced above. While nothing is certain, one can imagine a similar outcome in the current dispute between RLMC and GMR, especially in light of the fact that the current suit is filed in the same court as the RLMC-SESAC dispute.

If you’re a songwriter or artist who would like more information on broadcast radio rights and royalties for your music, contact the Scarinci Hollenbeck intellectual property attorneys at 201-806-3364 today.

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