TV Stations Win Trial in Music Licensing Dispute

NEW YORK—From the Television Music License Committee: Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, ruled on March 3, 2014 that local television stations are entitled to a trial on their claims that SESAC’s practices in licensing music performing rights violate federal antitrust laws.

The court reached this conclusion in a 69-page decision that denied nearly every element of SESAC’s motion for summary judgment. The case was brought in 2009 against SESAC, LLC by three local television station groups, Meredith Corporation, E.W. Scripps Company and Hoak Media, LLC, on behalf of all local television stations. The class action suit is being funded by the Television Music License Committee, LLC, a voluntary organization that represents the local television industry in negotiations with ASCAP and BMI.

The broadcasters assert that SESAC has used unlawful means to drive up the price of its blanket license and eliminate competitive alternatives. In its ruling, the court said the broadcasters had presented enough evidence for a jury to find SESAC had violated antitrust laws. The court said it will schedule further activity in the case in an order to be released shortly. No trial date has been set.

The Television Music License Committee’s statement concerning the ruling follows:

We are pleased by Judge Engelmayer’s thorough and insightful decision. The court agreed that local television stations are entitled to present to a jury local station evidence that SESAC’s business practices violate federal antitrust laws.

The court cut through SESAC’s legalistic arguments and found that a jury could find that SESAC’s licensing strategy since 2008 has been to illegally inflate blanket license fees paid by television stations. SESAC has done this by giving stations no competitive alternative to its blanket license, and signing contracts with composers deterring them from dealing directly with stations who want to buy their music.

SESAC stopped negotiating industrywide agreements with the committee at the end of 2007.

This is the second time SESAC has tried and failed to have this case dismissed. We now look forward to our day in court.