MANHATTAN (CN) - More than 1,200 independent television broadcasters asked a federal judge to intervene in a 2-year dispute with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) over broadcast-licensing fees the stations call "unreasonably expensive".
Lead plaintiff Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises claims that a severe contraction of both audience share and advertising revenue means that broadcast performances of music written by ASCAP members are being heard by ever smaller audiences.
It says that blanket and per program licenses between the parties expired on Dec. 31, 2009, and periodic negotiations over new license terms between ASCAP and the Television Music License Committee, the industry's representative, have been unsuccessful.
In the absence of a new license regime, the plaintiff broadcasters have operated under the terms of the expired licenses, knowing that the fees they pay could be retroactively adjusted, through a new agreement or the action of the court.
"By this petition, applicants seek a reduction in annual blanket license fees to reflect the decreased value of the ASCAP blanket license since the time the prior leases were negotiated," the broadcasters say.
"In addition, since 2004, this court has clarified ASCAP users' entitled to an adjustable credit to, or 'carve out' from, blanket license fees otherwise payable to account for performances of ASCAP-affiliated compositions that the user has licensed by other means. As applied to the applicants, such alternative licensing can take the form either of payments to copyright owners directly or of payments to suppliers of syndicated programming in consideration of their clearing music performance rights 'at the source.'
"Such fee-crediting mechanism offers particular promise to those applicants that, by virtue of their program mix, are unable to benefit from the per program license, another decree-guaranteed alternative to the traditional all-or-nothing blanket license designed to inject more competition into the licensing of local television music performing rights. This petition accordingly requests the court to set the terms for such an adjustment to the blanket license fee for the period commencing July 1, 2012."
The term of the requested licenses would run from Jan. 1, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2016.
The requested action does not encompass performances already licensed through the three major television networks, ABC, CBS or NBC, or through the nation's two Spanish-language networks, Univision and TeleFutura.
The plaintiffs are represented by R. Bruce Rich with Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
ASCAP represents the interests of some 420,000 composers and publishers.
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