Music publishers are still struggling to make money from digital music, so now Internet radio service Pandora is squaring off against the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), one of the largest licensing organisations.
We first saw the news in The New York Times.
Last year, Pandora paid 49% of its revenue, or about $US313 million, to record companies. But it only paid 4% of its revenue, so roughly $US26 million, to publishers.
Now licensing organisation ASCAP wants Pandora to pay more than its current rate of 1.85% of revenue as part of the 4% it pays for all publishing rights.
That would be bad news for Pandora because its expenses are pegged directly to its revenues.
Pandora argues that it shouldn’t have to pay ASCAP any more than traditional radio broadcasters do, which is about 1.7% of their revenue, since Pandora, which makes most of its money from advertising, considers local radio stations to be its closest competitors.
Every time Pandora plays a song, it must pay a licensing fee. Therefore, Pandora needs to make more money on the ads it plays its users than it pays in song royalty fees. But the problem is that every time someone plays a song, it generates more and more fees.
Now it’s up to U.S. District Judge Denise Cote to determine the rate Pandora would hypothetically pay ASCAP in a free market. It’s an important decision, given that Pandora’s model depends on low royalty rates.