SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
BROADCAST MUSIC, INC., et al. v. COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM, INC., et al.
441 U.S. 1
Argued January 15, 1979 -- Decided April 17, 1979
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT.
Respondent Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. (CBS), brought this action against petitioners, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and their members and affiliates, alleging, inter alia, that the issuance by ASCAP and BMI to CBS of blanket licenses to copyrighted musical compositions at fees negotiated by them is illegal price fixing under the antitrust laws. Blanket licenses give the licensees the right to perform any and all of the compositions owned by the members or affiliates as often as the licensees desire for a stated term. Fees for blanket licenses are ordinarily a percentage of total revenues or a flat dollar amount, and do not directly depend on the amount or type of music used. After a trial limited to the issue of liability, the District Court dismissed the complaint, holding, inter alia, that the blanket license was not price fixing and a per se violation of the Sherman Act. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for consideration of the appropriate remedy, holding that the blanket license issued to television networks was a form of price fixing illegal per se under the Sherman Act and established copyright misuse.
The issuance by ASCAP and BMI of blanket licenses does not constitute price fixing per se unlawful under the antitrust laws. Pp. 7-25.
(a) "It is only after considerable experience with certain business relationships that courts classify them as per se violations of the Sherman Act." United States v. Topco Associates, Inc., 405 U.S. 596, 607-608. And though there has been rather intensive antitrust scrutiny of ASCAP and BMI and their blanket licenses, that experience hardly counsels that this Court should outlaw the blanket license as a per se restraint of trade. Furthermore, the United States, by its amicus brief in the present case, urges that the blanket licenses, which consent decrees in earlier actions by the Government authorize ASCAP and BMI to issue to television networks, are not per se violations of the Sherman Act. And Congress, in the Copyright Act of 1976, has itself chosen to employ the blanket license and similar practices. Thus, there is no nearly universal view that the blanket licenses are a form of price fixing subject to automatic condemnation under the Sherman Act, rather than to a careful assessment under the rule of reason generally applied in Sherman Act cases. Pp. 7-16.
(b) In characterizing the conduct of issuing blanket licenses under the per se rule, this Court's inquiry must focus on whether the effect and, here because it tends to show effect, the purpose of the practice are to threaten the proper operation of a predominantly free-market economy. The blanket license is not a "naked restrain[t] of trade with no purpose except stifling of competition," White Motor Co. v. United States, 372 U.S. 253, 263, but rather accompanies the integration of sales, monitoring, and enforcement against unauthorized copyright use, which would be difficult and expensive problems if left to individual users and copyright owners. Although the blanket license fee is set by ASCAP and BMI rather than by competition among individual copyright owners, and although it is a fee for the use of any of the compositions covered by the license, the license cannot be wholly equated with a simple horizontal arrangement among competitors and is quite different from anything any individual owner could issue. In light of the background, which plainly indicates that over the years, and in the face of available alternatives including direct negotiation with individual copyright owners, the blanket license has provided an acceptable mechanism for at least a large part of the market for the performing rights to copyrighted musical compositions, it cannot automatically be declared illegal in all of its many manifestations. Rather, it should be subjected to a more discriminating examination under the rule of reason. Pp. 16-24.
(c) The Court of Appeals' judgment holding that the licensing practices of ASCAP and BMI are per se violations of the Sherman Act, and the copyright misuse judgment dependent thereon, are reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings to consider any unresolved issues that CBS may have properly brought to the Court of Appeals, including an assessment under the rule of reason of the blanket license as employed in the television industry. Pp. 24-25.
562 F.2d 130, reversed and remanded.
White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Brennan, Stewart, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, and Rehnquist, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 25.