Portland Festival Contests Coachella’s Music Monopoly

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – An annual music festival in Portland brought a federal complaint Monday over the Coachella music festival’s requirement that bands sit out all other West Coast festivals for the six months surrounding Coachella.

Soul’d Out Productions, which operates a five-day, multivenue music festival headlined this year by Erykah Badu, De La Soul and Wyclef Jean, brought the suit against Coachella Music Festival in Oregon, alleging antitrust and unfair competition. Represented by Schwabe Williamson, Soul’d Out also brought claims against Coachella sponsors The Anschutz Corporation, AEG Presents and GoldenVoice.

Coachella, one of the top music festivals in the world, happens in Indio, California, each year over two weekends in April. The festival is a major money maker, grossing $114.6 million in 2017, according to the complaint. It’s a highly sought after gig for musicians. And Coachella’s organizers exploit this, Soul’d Out claims, to monopolize the music festival market. Coachella invites musicians to perform on the condition that they sign a “radius clause” that prevents them from performing in any other music festival on the West Coast or in Arizona or Nevada for months on either side of the April event.

Soul’d Out, which grossed $2 million in 2017, says Coachella’s illegal contract has hampered its ability to thrive, by causing “numerous artists” to turn down offers to perform in Portland due to their agreements with Coachella.

Representatives for Coachella did not respond to requests for comment on the complaint, which demands an order barring Coachella from enforcing its radius clause and treble damages.

Schwabe Williamson attonrey Nicholas Aldrich said radius clauses are common in the music industry at a much smaller scale, such as one venue barring an artist from appearing at another in the same town on the same night. But he questioned the continent-wide swath cut by Coachella.

“It is remarkable that Coachella thinks it is reasonable to exert its market power over 1,000 miles away, to harm a much smaller, regional music event,” Aldrich said.

Consumer-protection laws in California, where Coachella is based, prohibit such anticompetitive contracts, Soul’d Out says, and also prohibit Coachella’s practice of waiving the restriction for venues that pay kickbacks.

Soul’d Out organizer Nicholas Harris said such anticompetitive tactics are part of the corporatization of music industry – a move that harms both small, independent promoters as well as the public.

“Music, and the culture that births it, is not a commodity to be exploited,” Harris said. “It is meant to inspire and enrich our lives, and our goal remains to bring the best quality performances to the listening audiences of Portland, Oregon, and the Pacific NW.”

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