'Rock Band' WMG artists not boycotted

MTV Games denies Wired magazine report

DENVER -- MTV Games is not boycotting Warner Music Group artists from the "Rock Band" franchise, despite what an article in the current Wired magazine claims, according to sources from both camps.

Rather, the impasse is best described as a stalemate. WMG CEO and chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. said in August during the company's quarterly earnings call that it would start demanding higher licensing rates from music-based video games.

According to multiple sources involved, WMG has not struck any new content deals for the "Rock Band" platform since.

MTV requested several new licenses in that time, under the same deal terms as before, but WMG responded with counter-offers that MTV would not agree to. So MTV has stopped requesting new licenses until both parties can resolve the licensing dispute.

"Rock Band" releases new music that can be downloaded to the game every week. Rival "Guitar Hero" does so far more infrequently. Since the beginning of this year, several WMG artists -- such as Belly, the Grateful Dead and the Pretenders, among others -- have been added to the weekly download offers. And more are in the pipeline, including the entirety of Jane's Addiction's "Nothing's Shocking" sometime in the next month.

But these releases are all a result of licensing deals struck prior to Bronfman's statements last summer. If no deal is reached soon, "Rock Band" will run out of new WMG content to sell in its weekly updates early this summer. What's more, even once the stalemate ends it could still take as long as four to five months before new WMG content is reinserted into the weekly pipeline, given the time it takes to program music into the game as well as the need to give priority to deals made earlier.

By all accounts, WMG is ready to wait it out. It recently pulled its content from YouTube over a similar licensing disagreement, and previously removed music from Last.fm and Nokia's mobile music store.

But it faces a more difficult challenge with video games such as "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero." Unlike digital retailers -- which really need content from all four majors to offer a compelling product -- these games only offer a segment of available music to its users. And both are also able to offer cover versions of songs for which they can't get master recording rights. Black Sabbath's "Paranoid," for instance, is one of the top 10 best-selling songs available on the Rock Band downloadable content platform ... as a cover.

Until now, the back-and-forth between the videogame makers and WMG was limited to Activision CEO Bobby Kotick -- publisher of "Guitar Hero" -- and Bronfman. MTV has been far more diplomatic in its response, but is rather letting its actions -- refusing WMG's new licensing terms -- speak louder than its words.
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