When two rational actors are economically interdependent on one another, disputes tend to get solved at a market clearing price. So it is with Global Music Rights and the goliath Radio Music License Committee that itself is a member of the even bigger goliath MIC Coalition. (My bet is that the Google-backed MIC Coalition is behind the bizarre push for 100% licensing by soon-to-be-former head of the US Department of Justice Antitrust Division, but that’s another story.)
While the Radio Music Licensing Committee and Global Music Rights continue to pursue anti-trust litigation against each other, the boutique performance rights organization started by Irving Azoff is offering temporary licenses that will allow radio stations to continue playing GMR songs without worrying about copyright infringement lawsuits.
According to a statement issued on behalf of GMR by lawyer Dan Petrocelli of O’Melveny & Myers, representing the PRO in the antitrust litigation; and a letter to RMLC members from RMLC chairman Ed Christian, radio stations have until Jan. 31 to sign an interim license agreement with GMR, which will cover them for playing the PROs songs through Sept. 30, 2017.
Each station willing to enter into the interim license has to contact GMR to see what their fee will be. However, the interim licensing agreement will leave each party the right to seek a retroactive fee adjustment, which could be based on a future licensing agreement subsequent to the interim license; the outcome of the antitrust litigation between the RMLC and GMR; or a possible rate settlement between the RMLC and GMR….
In fact, some music from songwriters in the Who, the Eagles, and by John Lennon and Drake, are no longer covered by ASCAP or BMI, and radio has been playing that music all along during 2016. But people familiar with GMR say they had no intention of suing for copyright infringement as long as RMLC was negotiating rates with the PRO.
Instead, they claim, the RMLC ambushed them with an antitrust lawsuit filed on Nov. 18 in the U.S. Eastern District of Pennsylvania Court by the law firm of Latham & Watkins. GMR filed its own anti-trust lawsuit, via O’Melveny & Myers, against the RMLC in California Federal Court on Dec. 6.
The songs at issue appear to be for GMR writers who left ASCAP in the last couple years, but arguably remain covered by ASCAP (and BMI) agreements expiring at the end of 2016–you know, next week.
What this comes down to, of course, is the one thing that the MIC Coalition doesn’t seem to think songwriters are much entitled to–property rights. As my old law and economics professor Armen Alchien has written:
A property right is the exclusive authority to determine how a resource is used…One [attribute of private property] is the exclusive right to the services of the resource. Thus, for example, the owner of an apartment with complete property rights to the apartment has the right to determine whether to rent it out and, if so, which tenant to rent to; to live in it himself; or to use it in any other peaceful way. That is the right to determine the use. If the owner rents out the apartment, he also has the right to all the rental income from the property. That is the right to the services of the resources (the rent).
Finally, a private property right includes the right to delegate, rent, or sell any portion of the rights by exchange or gift at whatever price the owner determines (provided someone is willing to pay that price). If I am not allowed [or not required] to buy some rights from you and you therefore are not allowed to sell rights to me, private property rights are reduced. Thus, the three basic elements of private property are (1) exclusivity of rights to choose the use of a resource, (2) exclusivity of rights to the services of a resource, and (3) rights to exchange the resource at mutually agreeable terms….
Private property rights do not conflict with human rights. They are human rights. Private property rights are the rights of humans to use specified goods and to exchange them. Any restraint on private property rights shifts the balance of power from impersonal attributes toward personal attributes and toward behavior that political authorities approve. That is a fundamental reason for preference of a system of strong private property rights: private property rights protect individual liberty.
Or as Gloria Steinem put it, artist rights are human rights. A host of human rights documents are consonant with this view, starting with Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (which, incidentally, was itself the inspiration for MTP):
Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
The MIC Coalition routinely runs over the rights of recording artists to fair compensation for the use of their recordings, so it’s a fair assumption that they are used to riding rough on creators and intend to do so with GMRs writers. We can all be thankful that GMR is both standing up for their songwriters and acting reasonably to allow business to get done. Hopefully, mega media corporations will decide that their resources are better spent paying a fair royalty to the songwriters that drive their business rather than unproductive litigation.