Pandora loses battle with BMI over performance rights

After more than a year in legal battles with music publishers over what songs Pandora has access to streaming, the online music broadcaster has lost a lawsuit with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI). On December 18th, a federal judge in New York has ruled that BMI may allow its members to prevent their music from being licensed to Pandora. This decision means that the online radio service may soon lose access to the extensive catalogs of artists on Universal and BMG Music.

BMI represents more than 600,000 songwriters, composers, and publishers throughout the world, including songs from well-known acts such as Lady Gaga, Eminem, Dolly Parton and more.

Judge Louis L. Stanton, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, stated, “The publishers are privileged to license, or not license, the performance of their compositions as they see fit. [Withdrawing their music from being licensed to Pandora is] well within their power as copyright holders.”

The American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP) weren’t so lucky in their battle when Judge Denise Cote, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled on September 17th that the organization, who represents about 475,000 members, including Katy Perry, Jay Z and Aerosmith, must continue to license its members’ music to Pandora. ASCAP was looking at severing its existing licensing agreement with Pandora.

Both judges have the “all in or out” mentality, but according to Billboard, timing is everything in this situation.

“The publishers are privileged to license, or not license, the performance of their compositions as they see fit.”

Judge Cote said, “Since the withdrawing publishers couldn’t withdraw their digital rights, their songs are a part of Pandora’s blanket license with ASCAP until it expires on Dec. 31, 2015.”

While Judge Stanton ruled “that any publisher that said it was withdrawing its digital rights now has to withdraw all of its songs for all types of music uses, not just digital, as of December 31, 2013.” He also added that their songs will still be part of the “existing blanket licenses until they expire.”

This could mean big trouble for BMI as Universal Music Publishing Group, Sony/ATV and EMI Music Publishing, which makes up about 48% of of the company’s representation, each face the decision to completely withdraw from BMI by January 1st or cut a new deal to stay with the Performance Rights Organization (PRO).

It’s unclear how general licensees for individual bars, restaurants and clubs could be affected if any publisher withdraws on December 31st, given many licenses expire monthly on the last day of each month and renew on the first day of the following month.

One lawyer involved with music publishing licenses stated, “This [Judge Stanton] ruling is disastrous. It has thrown the whole landscape into turmoil. It has created the potential for massive damages for services that play songs in violation of copyright law.”

Pandora continues to request clarifications and rulings on different aspects of the December 18th decision. Each clarification seems to be putting different components of the music publishing and digital services sector at risk.

Author: Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites.

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