In its first legal response to a SoundExchange lawsuit alleging underpayment of $150 million in artist royalties, SiriusXM claimed in a court filing Friday (Sept. 22) that SoundExchange’s numbers rely on a “so-called audit” that was a “flawed and biased examination” and insists the satellite-radio giant “properly calculated its royalty payments to SoundExchange in all material respects.”
The filing, which demands a change of U.S. court venue from Virginia to New York or Washington, D.C., also bashes the royalty collection and distribution service for trying to “justify its existence, lofty executive salaries and luxurious operating style through repeated litigation against its biggest contributor.”
In a phone interview before the filing, George White, SiriusXM’s senior vp of music licensing and royalties, says the SoundExchange lawsuit, filed in August, caught his company by surprise. “We were discussing settlement with them,” adds White, a former longtime major-label executive. “We really took some time to review it.”
White says the lawsuit comes down to a difference of opinion over SoundExchange’s “method of calculating their deduction.” He argues that SiriusXM has paid SoundExchange $5 billion in performance royalties for sound recordings over the last 10 years, and contributed “the vast majority” of the $805 million the service collected last year. “The rhetoric in the suit itself and the press release around the suit seems really unfair and wholly inappropriate,” White says. “In fact, we want to make every effort to ensure everyone is compensated fairly.”
SoundExchange, which collects royalties from webcasters and non-terrestrial radio services on behalf of artists and labels, argued in its Aug. 16 lawsuit that Sirius XM was bundling its satellite radio and streaming service, mixing the revenue in order to improperly reduce its royalty bill. The U.S. government mandates different royalty rates for satellite-transmitted services (like SiriusXM’s traditional satellite radio) and webcasting under so-called statutory licenses, but SoundExchange’s lawsuit declared that “Sirius XM has unjustly enriched itself to the detriment of recording artists and copyright owners upon whose music Sirius XM has built its business.”
In its response, SiriusXM accused SoundExchange of “misguided allegations” and argued a “proper audit” would conclude the company “properly calculated its royalty payments to SoundExchange.” The company also criticized SoundExchange for taking advantage of what it called the Virginia court’s “rocket docket,” which, regional lawyers have said, results in fast-moving cases, little time for discovery and quick resolution.
“We’re very hopeful that we can proceed down the lines of having a productive settlement discussion,” White says. “I would far rather that we had a close relationship with SoundExchange that was about working to grow SiriusXM’s contributions to SoundExchange.”
SoundExchange didn’t immediately respond to Billboard‘s request for comment.
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