Legal Drama

MySpace Co-founder Liable for $6.6 Million for Posting Lyrics of Hundreds of Popular Songs Without a License – #CopyrightInfringement

Folks this is a very interesting case. For the longest time, on the Nigerian front, you couldn’t point to any portal solely dedicated to displaying some of the famous lyrics of our artists. Now we have websites like that, to me, are doing a fantastic job in sharing the songs of our artists. Many times, our artists are the ones submitting their lyrics to these sites. In other instances, it is their fans who take the time to listen and transcribe the lyrics to share on these portals. In fact, half the time, in a day an age where people purchase music via mp3s, fans are not privy to the lyrics from our artists. So their actions are laudable.

So, when a fan or website owner takes the pain of transcribing the words of a song by P-Square, M.I etc. and submits it/or publishes it, who owns the lyrics? A straight reading of copyright laws will seem to suggest the fan that transcribed the song does. Under US law, a work gains copyright protection once it is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression.”  Under Nigerian law, a work gains copyright protection when there is a showing of a “sufficient effort” on the work to give it an “original character” and (a showing that) the “work has been fixed in any definite medium of expression  . . .”

This case below, a first of its kind in the USA, seems to suggest artists/music publishers own the songs that a fan transcribes. Actually, STOP. A caveat here folks. I have not read this case and will definitely do once I get my hands on it. The facts might be slightly different as to what the MySpace Co-founder did. He may have been publishing songs directly from the publishers as opposed to the scenario above where a fan or website owner listens to the music and then transcribes the work.

By the way, it is important to note that this law firm won this case on a motion for default judgment. They did not win, arguably, on the merits of their case. We saw a similar scenario in Nigeria’s IROKO versus Ghana’s IROKO TV Movie.

When you are sued, YOU SHOW UP. If yo do not, it is an automatic win for the Plaintiff.

So what does this mean? Until a case like this is fully litigated, in the nearest future,  if you own a website publishing lyrics of artists, you should have a license from the artist/publisher to post those lyrics on your site. The license agreement would obviously work out the compensation scheme. USA music publishers have a huge incentive in the digital age to get their money wherever they can. We are in a recession folks. They also have the infrastructure that supports such a move and a strong lobbying power.

For Nigeria’s music industry, I think it becomes a tad bit complicated, given where the industry is right now, if we moved in this direction. I think it will probably be one of those wait and see scenarios to see the growth of web portals and a structured publishing industry. Right now, the artist directly interacts with owners of lyrics websites. There is also very little money on the table to grab, so far. So, it is a different scenario.

Very interesting case with huge implications that exceed the music industry, from where I sit. Below is the  press release from the law firm who handled the case for the Plaintiff.  .  .

“Decision holds MySpace co-founder liable for posting lyrics of hundreds of popular songs without a license; California district court awards $12,500 in damages for each of 528 compositions in suit, including hits such as “China Girl,” “Moondance,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “(Don’t go chasing) Waterfalls”

NEW YORK, Oct. 11, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — In a first-of-its kind case establishing liability for posting unlicensed song lyrics on a website, law firm Arent Fox has won $6.6 million in statutory damages on behalf of a group of leading music publishers against the operator of online music sites.

The damages were awarded to publishers PeermusicBug Music, Inc. and Warner Chappell Music, Inc., whose portfolios include copyrighted songs written or performed by such artists as David Bowie, Van Morrison, Bob Seger, Green Day and Ray Charles, among others.

In addition to setting $6.6 million in damages for willful copyright infringement, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California imposed permanent injunctive relief for the plaintiffs as well as attorneys’ fees and related costs. The case caption is Peermusic,III, LTD.,et al v LiveUniverse,Inc. and Brad Greenspan.

The publishers were represented by Arent Fox intellectual property partners Ross Charap and Paul Fakler, who have handled a number of cutting-edge cases involving digital music and the intersection of copyright and the Internet.

The case is the first to establish copyright infringement liability for displaying song lyrics on a website without a license from the song’s copyright owner. Because plaintiffs established that Mr. Greenspan – one of the founders of MySpace – controlled the affairs of the corporate defendant, the defendants are jointly and severally liable for damages along with costs and attorneys’ fees. They are also bound by the terms of the permanent injunction which will forbid either defendant from using all or part of any of plaintiffs’ copyrighted musical compositions without first obtaining a license.

Plaintiffs were awarded $12,500 in damages for each of the 528 compositions cited in the lawsuit as having been posted by Mr. Greenspan on various websites under the umbrella ownership of LiveUniverse.

Among the songs whose copyrighted lyrics were displayed without permission were hits such as “China Girl” performed by David Bowie, “(Don’t Go Chasing) Waterfalls” performed by TLC, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” performed by Green Day, “Moondance” performed by Van Morrison, “Old Time Rock and Roll” performed byBob Seger, and “Georgia On My Mind” performed by Ray Charles. The Arent Fox attorneys note that the 528 songs are “merely representative of the millions of songs in the plaintiffs’ respective catalogs. In addition, the three plaintiffs are merely representative of the thousands of music publishers whose works were infringed by the LiveUniverse websites.”

Mr. Greenspan is no stranger to controversy and the courts. He was one of the founders and original investors in MySpace and received more than $60 million from the sale of that company to News Corp. He promptly challenged the sale, unsuccessfully, on the grounds that the company had been undervalued by management. At the same time, he founded LiveUniverse and created dozens of social media sites under the LiveUniverse umbrella, all of which subsequently failed. He also acquired the three illegal song lyric sites that were at the heart of this lawsuit.

Lyric sites are among the most visited destinations on the Web and generate many millions of dollars in advertising revenues. Many have entered into licenses with representatives of the music publishers in order that they may display copyrighted lyrics lawfully. Unfortunately, many others, like those in suit, refused licenses and continue to profit on the backs of the songwriters and music publishers who share revenues generated by the songs.

“One of the principal purposes of our lawsuit was to obtain a large statutory damage award which would serve as a warning to persuade illegal lyric site operators that it makes good business sense to become licensed and avoid having their site shut down and damages awarded against them,” said Mr. Charap.

Mr. Fakler added, “In fact, at an earlier stage in the proceeding, we obtained a preliminary injunction from the Court, shutting down the infringing websites. When that decision was publicized there was a significant upturn in the licensing of previously illegal sites. We expect this multi-million dollar judgment to have a similar effect, to the benefit of publishers and the songwriters whose works they license.”

Twitter: @uduaklaw
Photocredit: Ray Charles Official Facebook Fan Page

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Credited for several firsts in the fashion and entertainment industry, Uduak Oduok (Ms. Uduak) is a fashion and entertainment lawyer, speaker, visionary, gamechanger, trailblazer, and recognized thought leader, for her work on Africa’s emerging global fashion and entertainment markets, and the niche practice of fashion law in the United States. She is also the founder of ‘Africa Music Law,’ an industry go-to music business and law blog and podcast show empowering African artists. Her work in the creative and legal industries has earned her numerous awards and recognitions, including an award from the American University Washington College of Law for her “legal impact in the field of intellectual property in Africa." She has also taught as an Adjunct Professor at several institutions in the United States. For more information, visit her at

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