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Irving Azoff’s Music Rights Firm Ends Legal Battle With Radio Stations

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Irving Azoff’s music rights firm has settled its five-year legal battle with the group that represents more 10,000 radio stations, ending a fight that threatened to undermine the 80-year-old arrangement under which artists are paid for commercial airplay.

Azoff’s Global Music Rights and the Radio Music License Committee filed a joint stipulation on Monday to dismiss the antitrust lawsuits that they had filed against each other in 2016. The two sides also announced in a press release that a majority of commercial radio stations have agreed to a long-term license with GMR, which allows the settlement to take effect.

GMR launched in 2013 as a direct challenge to ASCAP and BMI, the performance rights organizations that control more than 90% of music copyrights. Azoff was able to obtain rights from a relative handful of songwriters whose songs had been performed by John Lennon, U2, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and others. Those songs were deemed must-haves for radio catalogs, and GMR then sought significantly higher rates than its artists were receiving under ASCAP and BMI.

The RMLC is a non-profit group that handles rate negotiations for commercial stations. Talks between GMR and RMLC broke down in 2016, prompting each side to sue the other for alleged antitrust violations, and leading to years of costly and inconclusive litigation.

The legal wrangling threatened to undermine the rate-setting structure that has been in place since 1941, when the Department of Justice reached a consent decree with ASCAP and BMI. The arrangement sets up a mandatory arbitration process, but GMR contended that the process artificially suppressed rights payments. In 2019, the Trump Justice Department filed a brief in the case supporting GMR, and suggesting that the RMLC was engaged in illegal price-fixing.

GMR has been issuing interim licenses to radio stations while the battle played out in court, allowing those songs to stay on the air. Last month, the RMLC informed member stations that it had reached a conditional settlement with GMR, which allowed stations to obtain long-term licenses to GMR’s songs as of April 1. The terms of the settlement have been kept confidential.

“This settlement puts an end to more than five years of litigation, and represents a shared desire by both sides to find a way for radio stations and GMR to work together on a long-term basis without repeatedly resorting to litigation,” said Ed Atsinger III, the chairman of the RMLC, in a release.

Azoff also issued a statement: “Global Music Rights stands for songwriters and the value of their music. I am proud of the GMR team for the hard work on behalf of songwriters in achieving this settlement. It is wonderful that GMR and thousands of radio stations coast to coast are partnered to bring great music to fans for many years.”

RMLC went through a similar dispute with the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC), beginning in 2012. The RMLC sued the group and obtained a settlement whereby SESAC rights were brought within the pre-existing arbitration scheme.

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