Pandora and BMI still unresolved as complications muddy court ruling

bmi pandoraThe purpose of collective licensing is simplicity. Providing a mechanism for blanket music-use approval is supposed to move things along, facilitating legal performances of songs and efficient payment to creators.

Tell that to BMI, its member publishers, and Pandora this morning, as they struggle to understand details of last week’s rate court ruling from judge Louis Stanton. As RAIN reported, that ruling seemed to give any BMI publisher the privilege to withdraw licensing rights from Pandora, if that publisher withdrew from BMI’s agency service entirely. The ruling forced BMI publishers and Pandora to make weighty decisions by January 1. For both sides, the decision involves whether to head for the private bargaining table to negotiate Pandora’s right to “perform” (stream) certain recordings.

All that is clear enough, if intricate. The complicating factor is interim licensing. In response to Pandora’s request for clarification, Judge Stanton issued a handwritten note explaining that Pandora enjoys streaming rights to publisher repertoire during negotiations, according to terms of an existing interim license. This twist seems to negate the main ruling (forcing an all-or-nothing decision on both sides on January 1). Billboard reports that a second layer of complication exists, because the interim licenses contain language that allows publishers to withdraw, shutting off the music from Pandora.

Further deus ex machina from the court is obviously needed … but Judge Stanton is now on vacation, and you know how it goes with those email vacation responders. So it looks like this drama might continue right down to the wire.

Brad Hill