Business

NMPA and Roblox Settle Copyright Suit, Launch Music Licensing Talks

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A week after signing a long-awaited agreement with Twitch, the National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) has struck a deal with Roblox, resolving the $200 million copyright infringement lawsuit it launched against the gaming platform in June.

The deal announced today (Sept. 27) settles claims filed by NMPA members over music use on the platform for an undisclosed amount, and lets NMPA members opt-in to a negotiation period during which they will individually set up go-forward music licensing deals with Roblox.

"We are extremely pleased to have found a way forward with Roblox as it continues to offer a unique platform for musicians and songwriters in the metaverse," NMPA president and CEO David Israelite said. "Roblox understands that music has the potential to play a more integral role on its platform. I appreciate Roblox’s willingness to work with us in pursuit of advancing the interests of publishers and songwriters and look forward to seeing how they expand virtual experiences through music."

The deal helps clear the path for Roblox's ongoing pursuit of the music industry. The gaming platform has partnerships with Sony Music Entertainment and BMG and counts Warner Music Group as an investor. It has hosted immersive virtual concerts with artists like Lil Nas X and Twenty One Pilots for millions of fans, and last week announced its first-ever album listening party with Poppy.

"We are delighted to have come to terms with select NMPA members, building on our existing relationships with major publishers," Roblox vice president, global head of music Jon Vlassopulos said. "We are pleased that the publishing industry sees the potential of Roblox to be a significant creative and commercial opportunity for its members. Music is a natural way for people to express themselves, be entertained, and connect with likeminded people. We strive to offer experiences that bring millions of fans together with the songwriters and artists they love."

On Roblox, a community of more than 48 million daily active users create and play their own games and spend real money on "Robux" to buy avatar accessories and other virtual goods. Players used to be able to purchase a virtual boombox and then head to the Roblox Library to load it up with song clips, which are uploaded by users for a small fee. Although Roblox has copyright detection systems to weed out unlicensed music, players would circumvent those systems by making slight changes to songs, like altering the pitch.

Enter the NMPA, which sued Roblox in June, alleging on behalf of more than a dozen leading publishers including Universal Music Publishing Group, Concord Music Group and Downtown Music Publishing that the platform was hosting a "massive" library of unlicensed song clips, including hits by stars like Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran, for users to play within games. The NMPA claimed that Roblox is taking advantage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) "safe harbor" provision, which shields content-hosting platforms from liability for copyright infringement by their users.

Roblox denied the lawsuit's claims in a statement, and Vlassopulos has argued that because Roblox presents an entirely new and different use case for music, it requires a new music licensing model. "We’re presenting the industry with a new opportunity," he recently told Billboard. "I think it’s about working out, collectively, what those new creative and commercial opportunities are, and then getting licensing models that support those."

The resolution boosts Vlassopulos' vision to create a virtual music playground akin to Las Vegas, with "hundreds of shows every day," he told Billboard. However, Roblox does not yet have broad music licensing deals with record labels.

"Roblox currently enables labels and publishers to reach millions of fans at once in hyper social, immersive environments such as launch parties and virtual concerts," Vlassopulos continued in his statement. "Moving forward, we are committed to partnering with the music industry, as a whole, to create an exciting new social era of the music business which engages fans and artists in an unprecedented way in the metaverse."