CommLawBlog

Lawsuit against SoundExchange could gain much for SiriusXM, broadcasters, webcasters with little risk

Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 11:10am

Kevin GoldbergIn the upcoming legal battle between SiriusXM and SoundExchange, the satellite radio broadcaster (along with broadcasters and others) has everything to gain, while SoundExchange and the CRB face potentially serious set-backs. So argues Kevin Goldberg, Special Counsel at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth, in the CommLawBlog.

Last week news broke that SiriusXM had sued SoundExchange and the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), accusing the record industry organziations of interfering with its efforts to directly license the sound recordings (find RAIN's coverage here).

The eventual outcome of the lawsuit aside, Goldberg (pictured) says SiriusXM "made the right play... litigation is expensive, but not as expensive as the $200 million in royalties that SiriusXM claims to have paid last year," he writes. "Add in the fact that a victory would not only reduce that expense, but also afford SiriusXM more flexibility in future negotiations and the ability to innovate."

Moreover, broadcasters (and, RAIN would add, webcasters) stand to "reap the benefits" of SiriusXM's lawsuit "without any effort." Goldberg echoes Davis Wright Tremaine partner David Oxenford (RAIN coverage here) in reasoning that SiriusXM's direct licensing deals "would provide important concrete data – possibly the only such data – regarding the value of a digitally transmitted sound recording" in future CRB royalty hearings for both SiriusXM and broadcasters.

"This would be especially important if the broadcasters’ own worst case scenario – enactment of the Performance Rights Act – were to occur," writes Goldberg.

The outlook is less rosy for SoundExchange. The royalty collection agency faces, at the very least, a long and expensive legal battle, Goldberg argues. At worst, it could face "possible dismantling... or the imposition of some limiting consent decree... or the forced introduction of a competitor receiving agent."

Quote from Goldberg

The lawsuit may also "be enough to rethink the entire regime" of the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), writes Goldberg. "From allowing SoundExchange to exist without competition to siding with SoundExchange on virtually every contested fact in the 2007 Webcasting II decision (and many other ratemaking proceedings), the CRB may have created the environment that allowed questionable, if not illegal, activity to flourish."

The constitutionality of the CRB and its appointment process have been repeatedly questioned and challenged in the past (RAIN coverage here, here, here and here).

But who wins or loses this particular lawsuit may be "beside the point," says Goldberg. "The mere initiation of the case may represent an early tremor signaling the onset of a seismic event, an event that would likely, one way or another, fundamentally affect all the players."

You can find Goldberg's extensive analysis and explanation of the SiriusXM lawsuit against SoundExchange and A2IM here.

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