U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton has ruled that Pandora doesn’t have a blanket license that includes the songs of publishers who have withdrawn their digital rights with BMI. In a conflicting 12/19 ruling from what happened with Pandora-ASCAP in September, Stanton rejected Pandora’s request for a ruling that its license for all of BMI’s work should be honored. He pointed out that while Pandora had asked for a five-year license beginning 1/1/13, BMI had already amended their rules to allow publishers to withdraw digital rights as of the same date.
Pandora was sued by BMI in June over a royalty fee disagreement.
On September 17, Pandora scored a court victory against ASCAP when Judge Denise Cote ruled that Pandora had a license in effect and all works were covered by the ASCAP blanket license, including songs from all the publishers that intended to withdraw. Pandora won and stopped ASCAP from limiting the number of songs that it licenses to Pandora.
Said Stanton in his ruling: “The publishers are privileged to license, or not license, the performance of their compositions as they see fit…When BMI no longer is authorized by music publisher copyright holders to license their compositions to Pandora and new media services, those compositions are no longer eligible for inclusion in BMI’s repertory. BMI can no longer license them to Pandora or any other applicant.”
He agreed with BMI to withdraw new media rights, saying they are “well within their power as copyright holders.”
This ruling means, bottom line, if Pandora doesn’t cut some deals with publishers including Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG and Kobalt, who all have notified BMI that on 1/1 they intend to withdraw their digital rights, Pandora could be in copyright violation if they haven’t pulled those songs by that date. The publishers are also faced with a decision of whether they follow through on withdraw on 1/1/14. If they do, that triggers their withdrawal from BMI, sans any existing blanket licenses that would include those publishers’ non-digital works until expiration.