A Reversal of Fortune: Songwriters & Music Publishers Sue Universal Music Group
NEW YORK, December 7, 2000 - In an ironic twist, Universal Records - the recent victor in a landmark copyright infringement action against online music site MP3.com - is now being sued by songwriters and music publishers who charge that Universal is engaging in exactly the same unlicensed activities that were found illegal in its own, prior litigation. The lawsuit (The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, et al. v. UMG Recordings, Inc.), filed today in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, alleges that some of America's most beloved songs are being infringed by the on-line activities of Universal.
The prior litigation mentioned was the legendary lawsuit brought against MP3.com. All five of the major labels - Universal Music Group included – as well as the Recording Industry Association of America and others, brought suit against MP3.com. The suit was in reference to their MyMP3 feature, which essentially allowed access to lots and lots of copyrighted works through their 'Beam-It' and 'Instant Listening' services. One of the greatest ironies is the fact that UMG was the last of the big five to settle and only did so after lengthy court processes and costs. They were also the first to publicly state that they would share the winnings with the artists whose works had been 'pirated.'
According to the complaint, Universal's website, known as "Doug and Jimmy's Farm Club," offers Internet users the ability to access Universal's sound recording catalog online via the process of "streaming on demand." The record company, however, has failed to license the use of the copyrighted music embodied in these sound recordings. The plaintiffs allege that licenses must be obtained before musical compositions are reproduced in the company's database.
The various music-publishing companies, as well as the Songwriter's Guild of America, took offense to the fact that these works were not previously cleared.
The plaintiffs in the action include many of the nation's leading songwriters and music publishers, including The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, The Songwriters' Guild of America, Inc., Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Louis Alter Publications, Irving Berlin Music Company, Williamson Music Company, Freddy Bienstock Music Company, Criterion Music Corporation, Frank Music Corp., MPL Communications, Inc., Peer International Corporation, and Elvis Presley Music.
Is this a typical case of the left hand being unaware of what the right hand is doing? Imagine how red their cheeks must be after making such a stink over MP3.com. According to Inside.com's Charles C. Mann, "Universal reacted with astonishment and dismay. In a brief statement released late Thursday, the label said that it had 'not yet even seen a courtesy copy of the complaint, let alone a demand letter from the publishers stating their claim.'
Mann also states that Universal insisted they were absolutely compliant."
A visit to the Universal Music site has a press release dated December 12, 2000. In a not particularly strategic move, Universal announced that Doug Morris had renewed his contract.
Universal is insisting they are in the right and only future proceedings will tell. Let's hope it goes to court so we have something juicy to talk about!
View an online copy of the complaint filed against UMG Recordings: The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, et al. v. UMG Recordings, Inc.
Farm Club - www.farmclub.com
Inside.com - www.inside.com
Irving Berlin Music Company - www.irvingberlin.com
MP3.com - www.mp3.com
MPL Communications, Inc. - www.mplcommunications.com
NMPA - www.nmpa.org
Peer International Corporation - www.peermusic.com
RIAA - www.riaa.com
Songwriter's Guild of America - www.songwriters.org
The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization - www.rnh.com
UMG - www.universalmusic.com
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