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CNN Accused of Using Unlicensed Music In Hundreds of Segments: ‘Breathtaking Scale’

A litigious music licensing company says that CNN's international outlets committed "massive willful copyright infringement."

A new lawsuit claims that CNN used more than 100 different songs in international segments without paying for them, constituting copyright infringement on a “breathtaking scale.”

Freeplay Music, a company that sells so-called production music for use with video content – and hasn’t been afraid to sue over it – claims the cable news giant used the company’s library of music as “their own personal cookie jar” for segments on CNN Philippines, CNN Indonesia, CNN Chile.

“As high-profile news media companies which strive to provide the best news product all across the world, CNN and the international parties know they must obtain a license to use other’s intellectual property,” Freeplay’s lawyers wrote in the complaint. “Despite this, they willfully and consciously did not do so here on a breathtaking scale.”

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The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in California federal court, claimed that CNN used 115 songs across 283 segments. And Freeplay’s lawyers say they were “not minor uses” but rather “essential to each of the segment” – allegedly often used throughout entire segments.

Discovering the illicit use of their music in foreign media segments was like “finding a needle in a haystack,” Freeplay’s lawyers say, but that CNN knew that when it allegedly stole the music: “CNN apparently counted on the difficulty of being caught in deciding to engage in this massive willful copyright infringement.”

Freeplay is seeking at least $17 million in damages, saying anything less “would not get the attention of these media goliaths that continue to commit widespread infringement of FPM’s intellectual property.”

A spokesperson for CNN did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.

The case is hardly Freeplay’s first. Court records show that the company has filed dozens of similar copyright lawsuits over alleged unauthorized uses of its music, including cases against online retail giant Alibaba and guitar maker Gibson. Most recently, Freeplay sued Ford Motor Co. in 2020 over accusations that the car company had used 54 different songs in online promotional videos but was was “too cheap” to pay for them.

Ford later countersued in that case, accusing Freeplay of actively seeking out litigation with “bait-and-switch” practices. The carmaker said Freeplay falsely advertises that its music is free to lure companies and individuals to the platform, only to later sue them “to extort vast amounts of money” when they used the music.

“Freeplay has asserted copyright infringement claims in dozens of lawsuits, extracting settlements in these litigations and … in an untold number of other instances where the simple threat of litigation was enough to shake down Internet users who mistakenly thought they were getting exactly what Freeplay advertises – music that was “free” to use,” Ford’s lawyers wrote at the time.

The case between Freeplay and Ford ended in a settlement last year.