Pandora scores legal victory against music publishers

A court ruling upholds the Internet radio service's motion that it's allowed to play all works covered by ASCAP without restriction.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

Pandora has emerged a partial winner in a legal case that pitted it against the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers.

A federal court in New York has ruled in favor of Pandora's motion that it can play all of the songs covered in the ASCAP library, the online music service announced Wednesday. Pandora had argued that a consent decree with ASCAP gave it a blanket license to play all such music despite attempts by some publishers to negotiate their own separate deals.

The case arose when ASCAP members EMI Music Publishing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and Universal Music Publishing Group tried to remove their licensing rights from ASCAP as a way to negotiate directly with online radio services such as Pandora, according to Reuters. Pandora claims these withdrawals shouldn't affect its overall license with ASCAP.

The court's ruling means that Pandora has a right to play all music from artists represented by ASCAP, which currently has around 470,000 members.

"We welcome the court's decision," Chris Harrison, Pandora's assistant general counsel, said in a statement. "We hope this will put an end to the attempt by certain ASCAP-member publishers to unfairly and selectively withhold their catalogs from Pandora."

ASCAP now seems to have bigger fish to fry in the rest of the case, with a rate trial scheduled to begin December 4. The trial will focus on what Pandora will pay ASCAP for the blanket license.

In response to the court's ruling, ASCAP CEO John Lofrumento issued the following statement:

ASCAP's more than 470,000 songwriter, composer, and music publisher members make their living creating the music without which Pandora would have no business. The Court's decision to grant summary judgment on this matter has no impact on our fundamental position in this case that songwriters deserve fair pay for their hard work, an issue that the Court has not yet decided. ASCAP looks forward to the December 4th trial, where ASCAP will demonstrate the true value of songwriters' and composers' performance rights, a value that Pandora's music streaming competitors have recognized by negotiating rather than litigating with creators of music.

Pandora tried to make its case for a system that fairly rewards artists without infringing on its own service.

"Pandora continues to firmly believe that musicians must be fairly compensated for their work," Harrison said. "We are committed to a responsible, sustainable, and equitable royalty structure that benefits and grows the entire industry and does not discriminate against new technologies."

Clarification at 8:20 a.m. PT: The ruling was on a motion.