Publishing

Roblox Hit With $200M Lawsuit From National Music Publishers' Association

Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

NMPA president/CEO David Israelite also announced that the NMPA will be ramping up its ongoing campaign against Twitch.

UPDATE: This story was updated on June 10 at 11 a.m. ET to include a statement from Roblox. Read more about Roblox's response in the full story here.

The National Music Publishers' Association (NMPA) has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against gaming platform Roblox, NMPA president/CEO David Israelite announced during the organization’s annual meeting Wednesday (June 9) as part of its ongoing efforts to crack down on unlicensed music in the gaming industry.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a list of leading publishers including Universal Music Publishing Group, Concord Music Group (with Pulse Music Group) and Downtown Music Publishing. It alleges that Roblox engages in copyright infringement on "a massive scale" by creating a library of unlicensed songs, including hits by artists like Ariana Grande and Ed Sheeran, to be incorporated into games that users create on the platform. The group is seeking $200 million in damages.

"Behind the scenes, they are making millions at songwriters' and artists' expense," Israelite said. "With the complaint we are filing immediately, we are sending a clear message both to Roblox, and to the video gaming industry at large, that you cannot build a company on the backs of music creators, refuse to pay them, profit off of users by activity and money and get away with it."

On Roblox, a community of 42 million active daily users create and play each other's games. Users can also upload their own MP3s to the platform, which other players can access and incorporate into games as well. Roblox charges users the “Robux” equivalent of around $4 per song upload. 

Copyright infringement is against Roblox’s Terms of Use. However, the lawsuit alleges that despite Roblox employing a team of 1,700 moderators to pre-screen all audio users upload for hate speech and other inappropriate content, the platform does not take meaningful steps to limit copyright infringement in those uploads. Instead, the lawsuit claims 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.  

During his speech, Israelite also accused Roblox of "taking advantage of young people's lack of understanding about copyright" and taking "virtually no action to prevent repeat infringement or alert users to the risks they are taking," which is one of the requirements for platforms seeking protection through the DMCA. In its Terms of Use, Roblox outlines a process by which copyright holders can file DMCA takedown requests, and allows users hit with those requests to file counter-notices. Roblox also implements a three-strike system for copyright violations, under which users who accumulate three valid takedown requests will have their accounts terminated. 

While Roblox has tapped artists like Lil Nas X and Zara Larsson to perform virtually inside the platform, and even has Warner Music Group on board as an investor, Israelite said that these partnerships only serve to "give [Roblox] the illusion of being pro-creator."

The other publisher plaintiffs included in the lawsuit are ABKCO Music & Records, Big Machine Records, Hipgnosis, Kobalt Music Group, MPL Music Publishing, peermusic, Reservoir Media Management and Spirit Music Group. Electronic artist deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) is also named as a plaintiff.

Israelite also announced that the NMPA will be ramping up its ongoing campaign against Amazon-owned livestreaming platform Twitch, a popular platform for gamers which also claims DMCA protection as a reason for its lack of broad music licenses.

The NMPA has already joined the RIAA in filing tens of thousands of takedown requests for video clips using unlicensed music on the platform, and now, Israelite says the NMPA is launching an "intensive enforcement program" to continue this process.

"Twitch should serve its users by fully licensing music which would allow the platform to flourish and copyright owners to be compensated properly," he said. "Until they do, we will be forced to remove aggressively that which Amazon refuses to pay for."

Reached by email, a spokesperson for Twitch responded, Our conversations with music rights holders, both with labels and publishers, are active and ongoing, and we continue to work with them to establish potential approaches that would be appropriate for the Twitch service and our entire community." 

Roblox responded to the NMPA lawsuit with a public statement on June 10, outlining its process of identifying and removing copyright infringement on the platform in accordance with the DMCA and vowing to "defend Roblox vigorously as we work to achieve a fair resolution." Read more about the company's response here.