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By Chris Cooke | Posted on Friday, January 28, 2022
The California judge overseeing a legal battle between Apple and the estates of Harold Arlen, Ray Henderson and Harry Warren said earlier this week he was not inclined to award either party to the dispute the summary judgments they had sought, meaning that all elements of the case could go before a jury.
Apple hoped to persuade the judge to drop the specific willful copyright infringement claims that were made against it, with the “deliberate” piece generally significantly increasing the damages that could be awarded down the line.
The tech giant argued that it was at least one step away from any alleged infringement and that it was impractical for it to check whether every label and distributor it deals with in the United States had properly authorized the rights to the songs contained in their recordings.
He also accused the three estates of choosing to directly sue for alleged copyright infringement, because that way their lawyers could get decent damages. However, the judge said he believed there were probably enough factual disputes in this case. to require jury deliberations, even on the willful infringement action.
This lawsuit was originally initiated by the estate of Arlen, who wrote ‘Over The Rainbow’, ‘I’ve Got The World On A String’ and ‘Get Happy’, among many other famous works. . His estate argues that an assortment of labels and distributors uploaded counterfeit versions of recordings of those songs to otherwise legitimate download stores and streaming services.
The Arlen estate is suing not as the owner of the recording rights to these tracks, but in relation to the rights to the songs that accompany them. Although the mechanical copying of songs is covered by a compulsory license in the United States – by which the Arlen domain would generally receive its song royalties – this compulsory license does not apply if a recording is unlicensed. Thus, the digital delivery of such recordings would also infringe the copyrights of the songs.
The estate sued various digital platforms for alleged infringement, with Warren and Henderson’s estates later joining as co-plaintiffs. The initial lawsuit was finally dismissed at the request of these various plaintiffs, but new disputes were then quickly filed, in particular against Apple and its iTunes Store.
According to the law360during a hearing in the case earlier this week, Apple pointed out that the domains had not sent takedown notices to the iTunes Store regarding the specific tracks they are contesting in this lawsuit. .
Indeed, according to Apple’s attorneys, the estates didn’t just want the allegedly infringing tracks removed and all previously unpaid song royalties paid, they were more interested in seeking millions of dollars in so-called damages. -interests before the courts.
Apple also noted that with the iTunes Store in the United States, it is not directly involved in the licensing of song rights, unlike the Apple Music streaming service and the iTunes Store in the United States. most other countries.
This means that it is the labels and distributors who must settle the administration of the aforementioned compulsory license with respect to all songs contained in the recordings they release. Not being directly involved in this process, Apple added, it is impossible for the tech giant to be proactively aware of unlicensed songs, meaning it cannot be held responsible for any willful violation.
However, estates legal representatives countered, while they may not have sent takedown requests regarding the specific leads mentioned in this case, they had sent takedown requests in the past regarding other leads. and no action had been taken by the iTunes Store.
“I think the evidence will show that Apple is ignoring takedown notices,” attorney Matthew Francis Schwartz told the judge.
The real problem here, Schwartz added, is that Apple doesn’t have effective systems for dealing with labels and distributors who routinely upload recordings to its system that they don’t own or control. Companies that are, in Schwartz’s words, “absolute, massive hackers.”
These companies – which distribute recordings they have no right to distribute – are unlikely to meet their compulsory license obligations on the song side. And even if they do, this compulsory license does not apply because of the infringement on the recordings side.
Thus, many claims by plaintiffs and defendants, creating factual disputes which, according to Judge William H Orrick, must be taken to a jury.
As this case progresses, a separate lawsuit filed against Google over the same issue was apparently settled last year.