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Judge stops music publishers from closing Pandora’s box

District court judge rule that ASCAP withdrawals won’t affect Pandora’s licensing deal

The music industry, perhaps more than any other, has struggled to find its footing in the modern era of digital technology. iTunes helped change the distribution model by moving consumers away from physical discs of music, and music piracy has had an enormous impact on the bottom line of songwriters and music publishers.

So it was, perhaps, a forward-thinking decision made by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), when it reached an initial licensing agreement with Pandora in 2005. In the intervening years, Pandora has grown to become one of the most popular channels for consuming music.

After the initial agreement expired in 2010, Pandora and ASCAP negotiated toward a new agreement, but it was clear that the two parties were not in accord on many matters. A new licensing agreement began in 2011, but Pandora filed a lawsuit in November 2012, asking the court to set reasonable fees to license the ASCAP songs.

The latest development in the saga centered on Sony’s catalog. The large music publisher recently withdrew new media rights from ASCAP, hoping to negotiate license fees directly with various Web radio services. However, in a ruling on Sept. 17, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote ruled that the withdrawal will not affect the licensing agreement with Pandora.  

“We welcome the court’s decision,” Chris Harrison, an assistant general counsel of Pandora, said in a statement. “We hope this will put an end to the attempt by certain ASCA by-member publishers to unfairly and selectively withhold their catalogs from Pandora.”

This is not the only licensing imbroglio that has ensnared Pandora. This summer, Broadcast Music, Inc. filed a suit against the Internet music service, demanding higher licensing fees for songs. 

Contributing Author

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Rich Steeves

Richard P. Steeves is Managing Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he covers the intellectual property and compliance arenas. Rich earned a B.A. in English Literature...

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