Major labels sue Internet Archive over pre-1972 recordings

Universal Music Group (UMG), Capitol Records, Sony Music Entertainment, and Arista Music have filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Internet Archive. The music companies allege “massive, ongoing violation of rights in protected 1972 recordings.”

The heart of this confrontation is a branded section of the Internet Archive’s Great 78 Project, a streaming database of 400,000 streaming, downloadable, and shareable recordings. The Archive seeks to “”ensure the survival of these cultural materials for future generations to study and enjoy.”

Artists represented in this substantial collection include Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Gene Kelly, Mel Torme, Glenn Miller, The Platters, and just about any pre-1972 recording artist one might think of.

1972 is the key date in the U.S. Copyright Act, defining the lawful and unlawful exploitation of owned music. That law established rates for creative work going forward. But going backward in time was different, and in 2017 congress filled in the decades-long gap in protection with a standardized royalty scheme for older music. That process assigned SoundExchange to distribute royalties for pre-1972 recordings played by Internet, cable, and satellite radio sources. (RAIN coverage HERE, and RAIN’s general coverage of pre-1972 issues HERE.)

According to the complaint, the Internet Archive “have willfully reproduced thousands of Plaintiffs’ protected sound recordings without authorization by copying physical records into digital files. Internet Archive then willfully uploaded, distributed, and digitally transmitted those illegally copied sound recordings millions of times from Internet Archive’s website.” The music companies characterize the alleged misuse as “immense infringement.”

According to Reuters, 2,749 copyrights have been allegedly infringed. Reuters also quotes alleged financial damages at $412-million.

The labels emphasize that the recordings are not withheld from public consumption, but are legitimately distributed through monetized channels: “Plaintiffs go to great lengths to create and maintain legitimate channels from which customers can lawfully access Plaintiffs’ music. These include streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Music, and Tidal, digital music stores like Apple’s iTunes store, and many others.

HT: Jolie MacFey




Brad Hill


  1. “That process assigned SoundExchange to distribute royalties for pre-1972 recordings played by Internet, cable, and satellite radio sources.”
    My understanding that was for the money SX was collecting from Licensees who played and paid on those pre-72 recordings because otherwise SX was just sitting on the money. So it was a good thing at the time, but now seems like it’s being used in a way that it wasn’t intentioned? Maybe I’m missing something IANAL.

  2. PS- Library of Congress should be generously funding the Internet Archive to do what it’s doing. So much content would be lost without them.

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