Pandora Wins Licensing Ruling Against Songwriters
By Don Jeffrey - Sep 18, 2013 12:01 AM ET
Pandora Media Inc. (P), the biggest Internet radio service, won a judge’s order to stop a group representing songwriters and music publishers from narrowing the scope of licenses that allow their music to be played.
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan said in a ruling yesterday that Pandora’s five-year license beginning Jan. 1, 2011, wasn’t affected by withdrawals of new-media licensing rights from the repertory of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Cote granted Pandora’s request for summary judgment, citing an earlier consent decree.
“The language of the consent decree unambiguously requires Ascap to provide Pandora with a license to perform all of the works in its repertory,” Cote said in the ruling.
The issue in the case arose from decisions by large music publishers including EMI Music Publishing Ltd. and Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC to withdraw new-media rights from Ascap and negotiate license fees directly with Web radio services. Pandora said that while its license renewal with Ascap was pending, the organization shouldn’t allow the withdrawals, which would reduce the number of songs covered by Ascap’s licenses.
Pandora filed a lawsuit in November asking the court to set “reasonable” fees for a licensing agreement with Ascap through 2015. It sought a blanket license that would cover all songs represented by the 470,000-member group. Pandora said the current fees made sustained profitability impossible.
Ascap and Pandora reached an “experimental” fee agreement in 2005 that lasted until 2010. The parties then were unable to agree on licensing rates after more than a year of talks, Pandora said in its complaint.
Under the terms of the federal consent decree, the U.S. District Court in New York has jurisdiction over rate-setting if the parties can’t come to terms.
Ascap argued that nothing in the federal consent decree prohibited publishing companies from withdrawing rights. Ascap represents the music of artists including Beyonce, Alan Jackson, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington.
Pandora, based in Oakland, California, offers programming to subscribers based on their musical preferences. The company said this month it had 72.1 million active listeners at the end of August, an increase of 28 percent from the same period a year earlier.
The case is In re Petition of Pandora Media Inc., 1:12-cv-08035, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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