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Judge Moves Global Music Rights Dispute to California Court

After more than two years of bitter litigation, a Pennsylvania judge has decided that he does not have the power to adjudicate a fight between the nation’s radio stations and Global Music Rights, an upstart licensing company founded by Irving Azoff.

U.S. District Court Judge C. Darnell Jones II issued a ruling on Friday transferring the case to federal court in Los Angeles. The ruling marks a victory for Global Music Rights, which has argued since 2016 that the case belongs in California.

Azoff’s company launched in 2013, with the aim of disrupting the way radio stations license music. The vast majority of songs are controlled by either BMI or ASCAP. Radio stations pay a set rate to license those songs, which has long been governed by an arbitration process under judicial consent decrees.

Azoff lured about 70 artists and songwriters away from ASCAP and BMI, including Bruce Springsteen, Drake, and Eddie Vedder. Though GMR’s catalog is still dwarfed by BMI and ASCAP, the company represents artists that are deemed essential to radio stations’ playlists.

In 2016, GMR engaged in licensing negotiations with the Radio Music License Committee, which represents more than 90% of the nation’s radio stations. Those talks broke down in late 2016, and both sides filed suit, each accusing the other of anti-trust violations.

The RMLC filed first, in federal court in Philadelphia. The RMLC argues that GMR is seeking extortionate rates for its artists, and should be compelled to arbitrate under the same scheme that governs BMI and ASCAP. GMR accuses the RMLC of being an illegal cartel, which suppresses licensing fees paid to artists. GMR’s suit, filed in Los Angeles, has been on hold pending the outcome of the Pennsylvania case.

Jones’ ruling did not resolve any of the underlying disagreements. Instead, the judge found that he does not have “personal jurisdiction” over GMR, but that such jurisdiction does apply in Los Angeles. GMR had argued that the RMLC filed in Pennsylvania for “tactical advantage.” The RMLC is based in Nashville, and GMR is headquartered in Los Angeles.

Early in the case, GMR threatened that radio stations that kept playing its artists’ songs after Jan. 1, 2017, could face copyright suits. The two sides have since been operating under an interim license agreement pending the outcome of the litigation.

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