Apple Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Unpaid Independent Artist Royalties

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A silhouette next to an Apple during the sale start of the new iPhone X at the Apple store Grosse Bockenheimer Strasse in Frankfurt, Germany on Oct. 3, 2017. 

Apple allegedly failed to license mechanical rights for the compositions it played by independent songwriter Bryan Eich.

On Sunday, Richard Garbarini, a lawyer at Garbarini Fitzgerald, filed a putative class action lawsuit against Apple Music on behalf of independent songwriter Bryan Eich, asking for $30,000 for each song the company allegedly infringed. Charging that Apple failed to license mechanical rights for the compositions it played, Garbarini asked the court to certify a class of songwriters who own the publishing rights to recordings that they submitted to Apple through aggregators like CD Baby.

The rough outline of the case isn't new: None of the streaming services seem to have obtained all of the mechanical licenses they need to offer the songs they do and several have been sued for that. Most notably, there was a putative class-action case against Spotify, in which the court has been asked to approve a settlement. But Rhapsody was hit with a putative class-action suit last March, and last February Garbarini also filed putative class-action suits against Tidal, Slacker and Google Play. So far, though, this appears to be the first such lawsuit filed against Apple, which enjoys more music business goodwill than its rivals and resources most plaintiffs lawyers can't match.

Other streaming services have said that they can't always identify or find publishing rights holders in order to license their compositions. In such cases, under U.S. copyright law, distributors can file Notices of Intent (NOIs) with the Copyright Office, but the lawsuit says Apple didn't do that for Eich's songs. (The lawsuit says that names and addresses of publishing rights holders are "readily ascertained from the third party aggregator who submits same with the recordings for review.") Although Eich isn't well known, that doesn't matter, since statutory damages for copyright infringement are assessed per work. Although the proposed class is limited to songwriters who submitted material through aggregators, it could still include thousands of members.

Garbarini Fitzgerald is a small firm, and it's hard to imagine it taking on Apple in court, although the firm's web site has the motto "Certa Bonum Certamen" -- Latin for "Fight the good fight."

Neither Garbarini nor Apple responded to a request for comment.


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