Global Music Rights, the boutique performance rights organization that represents Bruce Springsteen, Bruno Mars, Prince, Drake, Pharrell Williams, John Lennon, Eagles and others, has filed a copyright lawsuit against a Vermont-based group of radio stations that has allegedly played songs for years without a license.
The lawsuit targeted Vermont Broadcast Associates, which operates seven radio stations serving local communities in Northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Quebec. The complaint, filed in Vermont federal court Thursday, also names Bruce James names as the owner of the company and a defendant.
GMR claims that VBA’s stations have been playing 66 songs in the GMR catalog since 2017 without a license, amounting to 1,600 violations of copyright law, even though the PRO has submitted 10 separate written licenses during that time period.
“Defendants’ infringements were neither incidental nor accidental,” the group’s lawyers write in the complaint.
After being founded by longtime music exec Irving Azoff in 2013, GMR spent years in court litigating over licensing terms with the Radio Music Licensing Committee, the group that negotiates music licensing deals for more than 10,000 member stations. The case finally settled in 2022 with a long-term licensing agreement.
In Thursday’s complaint, GMR claims that VBA is a member of the RMLC but nevertheless ignored “GMR’s communications and chose not to enter into GMR licenses, but continued playing GMR songs on its stations.”
“While we only turn to litigation as a last resort, it is long established U.S. law that GMR’s clients’ copyrighted works cannot be publicly performed without a license,” GMR’s general counsel Emio Zizza said in a statement. “All the radio stations that have entered into a GMR license and are paying their fees deserve the benefit of that license. Station groups who don’t want to pay for a GMR license are not entitled to play GMR’s immensely popular catalog of songs, depriving creators of their due.”
The GMR complaint, filed by the law firms of Lynn Lynn Blackman & Manitsky, P.C.; and O’Melveny & Myers LLP — claims that “GMR is entitled to maximum statutory damages of $150,000” if willful infringement is proven for each song played without a GMR license.
In response to a request for comment, Vermont Broadcast Associates owner Bruce James said by e-mail: “I have been working with Zachary Dekel representing GMR and believe we are licensed.” He added he has contacted Mr. Dekel on Friday morning (Jan. 19) to “resolve any issues.” According to the O’Melveny & Meyers website, Dekel is a litigation counsel with the firm.
In response to James’ comment, GMR representatives say that Dekel reached out to the VBA owner many times but a GMR license was never taken, which is why the lawsuit was filed.
The case is not the first time GMR has gone after radio stations that allegedly failed to pay. In October 2022, the group filed three similar copyright cases against radio stations in California, Connecticut, Florida, claiming each had made the “strategic decision” to simply not pay performance royalties to the group and “hoped to get away with it.”
“Defendants did not get away with it,” GMR’s attorneys wrote at the time. “Its stations have been caught red-handed violating the law.”
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