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NRBMLC Files Comments to DOJ on ASCAP and BMI Consent Decrees

NRBMLC logoThe NRB Music License Committee (NRBMLC) filed comments with the U.S. Department of Justice last week in response to its plans to review the “consent decrees” that govern how the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) license songs for public performance in the United States.

The consent decrees, which for more than 50 years have subjected both ASCAP and BMI to Federal Court oversight, set limits on their operations and how they license their music. 

The NRBMLC – along with two other broadcast industry music license committees, the Radio Music License Committee (RMLC) and the Television Music License Committee (TVMLC) – filed comments asking the DOJ to refrain from eliminating or even “softening” these decrees.

ASCAP and BMI, along with major publishers and with the encouragement of the U.S. Copyright Office, have been lobbying the DOJ to modify their consent decrees “to account for changes in how music is delivered to and experienced by listeners.”

The NRBMLC, however, insists that the market for music performance rights is not competitive and the consent decrees remain critical to restraining anticompetitive behavior by ASCAP and BMI.

In its comments, the NRBMLC pointed out that the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC) is a perfect example of music licensing without consent decrees.  Presently, SESAC has no government oversight and thus sets its rates as a monopolist – “a seller with which all radio stations must deal, but whose prices are unrelated to the value of the music performed.”

“As a result of its behavior, SESAC has been sued for antitrust violations by both the Television and Radio Music License Committees,” noted NRBMLC in its comments. “The SESAC experience demonstrates the importance of fostering competitive alternatives.”

Formed in 1985, the NRBMLC is a standing committee of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB). The NRBMLC, along with its noncommercial counterpart, NRBNMLC, represents approximately 900 full-power commercial and noncommercial AM and FM radio stations in their music license dealings. Their objective is to help foster competition and common sense in the pricing of music. 

According to NRBMLC Executive Director Russ Hauth, it could be a long time before things are sorted out. “Congress is committed to a full review of the U.S. Copyright Act, a project that could take multiple terms,” he said. 

By NRB Staff

Published: August 14, 2014


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