Skip to main content

Sony Music Suing Musicians for Allowing Attorney to Use Album Artwork

On Friday, Sony Music asked a judge to permit amended counterclaims in a class-action lawsuit filed against the company for allegedly not honoring termination notices in a systematic way.

Copyright termination has become a big deal — and now the provision of law that allows authors to reclaim their works after 35 years is getting quite nasty. Check out what Sony Music just filed in New York federal court.

John Lyon and Paul Collins are two musicians attempting to lead a class action against Sony for allegedly not honoring termination notices in a systematic way. The case, along with a similar one against Universal Music Group, is primed to resolve lingering questions about whether certain recordings are “works made for hire,” ineligible for copyright termination.

On Friday, Sony asked a judge to permit amended counterclaims.


Sony wishes to sue Lyon and Collins for selling unauthorized, “pirate” versions of their own albums on websites. Last week, UMG made a similar move, countersuing musicians including Joe Ely and Syd Straw for distributing their own music in an unauthorized way.

But that’s not all! Most spectacularly, Sony aims to hold the musicians liable for secondary copyright infringement because the musicians’ attorney, Evan Cohen, is apparently using album artwork to recruit other clients. As a letter to the judge puts it, “[B]oth Lyon and Collins appear to have authorized their attorney, Evan Cohen, to distribute and display SME’s copyrighted album artwork on Mr. Cohen’s website, so that Mr. Cohen can advertise his business centered on preparing termination notices.”

Here’s the proposed countersuit.

We imagine there could be a decent fair use argument to this use of cover art.


Cohen responds, “Sony lost its motion to dismiss earlier this year in the class action filed against it by notable musicians David Johansen, Southside Johnny, Paul Collins and others. Now, instead of responding fully and fairly to allegations that it has refused to follow the Copyright Act and honor the rights of recording artists to terminate grants of copyright for their sound recordings, Sony has chosen to file petty counterclaims against two of the three class representatives. This is nothing more than a hollow effort to intimidate the class representatives and deter other recording artists from seeking their termination rights and damages for infringement in the class action.”

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.