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Inside the NMPA Lawsuit Against a Video App ‘Brazenly’ Ignoring Licenses

The case, part of a broader legal campaign announced by NMPA, says such apps simply take music "assuming they will never get caught."

In a lawsuit announced Wednesday by the National Music Publishers’ Association, a slew of major publishers accused an app called Vinkle of “brazenly” using copyrighted music without licenses. Here’s exactly what they’re claiming.

Filed in San Francisco federal court, the complaint claims that Vinkle – an app that allows users to easily create short music videos – is built almost entirely on a huge catalog of music that the company “neither owns nor has obtained a license to use.”

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“Apps like Vinkle, in today’s social media environment, are becoming increasingly aggressive in misappropriating music owned by members of the music publishing community,” attorneys for the publishers wrote. “These apps simply take the music and earn significant profits off the backs of songwriters and music publishers, all the while knowing—but disregarding—that they must obtain a license to use the music, assuming they will never get caught.”

The case was filed by several units of Universal Music Group, as well as independents like Big Machine, Spirit, Concord, peermusic and Reservoir. Hipgnosis, the music investment fund founded by Merck Mercuriadis, also signed on as a plaintiff. Vinkle’s owner, a Chinese firm called Shenzhen Qutui Technology Co., Ltd., was named as a defendant.

According to statements Wednesday from NMPA president and CEO David Israelite at the group’s annual meeting, the case against Vinkle is the start of a broader campaign against apps that don’t secure proper licenses from publishers. Israelite said about 100 cease-and-desists had also been sent out to other apps that are allegedly flouting copyright law.

Such a campaign would be the latest in a string of high-profile copyright battles engineered by NMPA, aimed not-only at particular companies but also at securing sector-wide copyright licensing compliance from certain areas of the tech industry.

The group’s members sued Peloton in 2019, claiming the fitness tech giant had failed to get proper licenses for its popular interactive spin classes. Then in 2021, NMPA members filed a similar case against the gaming platform Roblox. Both the Peloton case and the Roblox case ended in private settlements and promises of future partnerships between the tech firms and music publishers.

In the new case against Vinkle, the publishers said unlicensed music was “integral” to its business model, since the app allegedly provides users with “templates” that allow them to upload their own video synced to copyrighted music. Songs are also a “lure” to convert users from free members to paid subscribers, since a $5.99 monthly payment unlocks more than 1000 new templates.

“It is critical that those responsible for the infringing activity be stopped and held accountable,” the publisher wrote. “Vinkle’s exploitation of copyrighted musical works is essential to its music video making service, which has proved enormously popular.”

In technical terms, the lawsuit accused Vinkle of both direct copyright infringement as well as secondary infringement – meaning the app also enabled its users to violate the publisher’s works. The case listed 55 allegedly-infringed songs, but that list could change as the case is litigated.

Read the entire lawsuit here: