Missed this one when it first came out, but Copycense
points us to the news that TV broadcasters have sued SESAC
, one of the collections agencies for songwriters and composers (the smallest, after ASCAP and BMI), claiming that SESAC is violating antitrust laws in how it prices music used in television shows -- especially for syndicated shows. The details are really quite fascinating. Local stations quite often run syndicated shows (such as sitcom reruns). When they buy the rights to run those syndicated shows, the package includes all of the related copyrights except
for performance rights for any of the music included. Those have to be purchased separately by the broadcasters themselves. Now, for SESAC, representing the songwriters, this presents a golden opportunity. It's the only thing standing between the broadcaster and being able to show the syndicated shows -- and thus, it can ask for extremely high prices, or -- more commonly -- pressure the broadcasters into a high-priced "blanket license." Since the broadcasters can't change out the music (it's in the shows already), they generally have no choice but to go along. So, the argument goes, SESAC effectively has a monopoly position, and is abusing it.
Of course, the real "monopoly" here is copyright. At a quick glance, it certainly looks like SESAC is doing exactly what copyright allows -- but the structure of licensing for syndicated TV content allows SESAC to make life difficult for the broadcasters. So, I'm not really sure SESAC should really be faulted here, as it seems to be doing exactly what it was enabled to do thanks to overly broad copyright laws. At the same time, it also makes you wonder why the broadcasters don't go back to the TV program owners themselves and demand that they bundle the music performance rights as well, since there's more negotiating power there. So, while it does seem unfair for the broadcasters as the market is currently structured, I'm not sure it's an antitrust violation on SESAC's part. More a problem with how the industry licenses are set up, combined with copyright being way too broad in such situations.
There's also a separate interesting element to this lawsuit -- which is why it's SESAC being sued rather than ASCAP and BMI. ASCAP and BMI are both already limited due to previous antitrust fights and consent decrees against them, whereas SESAC has been more or less free to act this way. Either way, it's yet another lawsuit concerning aggressive use of copyright to try to demand as much money as possible, even for music that is a small part of an overall presentation of content.