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Fans of The Ellen DeGeneres Show know that Ellen is famous for dancing through the audience to everything from recent Rihanna hits to classics by The Beach Boys. She might have to rethink her song choices after major recording companies sued the show in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee (in Nashville) on September 9 for violating copyrights by playing more than 1,000 songs without permission.
The record companies allege that the show, now in its sixth season, has used songs without permission since it first aired. The list of songs included Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” among many others, including current popular songs which the labels refuse to license for use on daytime television.
When record label representatives asked why the show failed to purchase licenses to use the songs, defendants responded that they “didn’t roll that way.” According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs, including Arista Music, Atlantic Recording Corp., Capitol Records, Motown Record Company, Sony Music Entertainment, Virgin Records America and Warner Bros. Records, stated that “regardless of the way they rolled,” the show had to obtain licenses to legally use the songs under the Copyright Act and under state law for recordings made before 1972.
Ellen made headlines recently when American Idol selected her to replace Paula Abdul as a judge on the show. Coincidentally, Sony Music Group, one of the plaintiffs, also owns the record labels Jive and RCA, which often sign successful idols.
Warner Bros., one of the divisions of Time Warner Inc. responsible for producing and distributing the show, stated that the show and the record companies had discussed for months how the show uses songs. Warner Bros. expressed disappointment with the filing of the lawsuit and reiterated its willingness to find a reasonable solution.
Although the lawsuit did not specify damages, the show could be on the hook for a lot of money given the sheer number of songs it used. If the people behind the show did use the songs without permission, they should have known better. As part of a large corporation with legal counsel at its disposal, there is no excuse for copyright infringement of this magnitude. Considering Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a Minnesota mom, was found liable for copyright infringement to the tune of $1.92 million for illegally downloading 24 songs, just think what the record labels could get for 1,000 songs.
Something tells me this case will settle before it gets anywhere near a courtroom, but perhaps the show will think more about which way it “rolls” in the future.
– Sarah Duncan
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