Record Labels Face $6 Billion Damages for Pirating Artists

While the major record labels were dragging file-sharers and BitTorrent sites to court for copyright infringement, they were themselves being sued by a conglomerate of artists for exactly the same offenses. Warner, Sony BMG, EMI and Universal face up to $6 billion in damages for pirating a massive 300,000 tracks.

It is no secret that the major record labels have a double standard when it comes to copyright. On the one hand they try to put operators of BitTorrent sites in jail and ruin the lives of single mothers and students by demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and on the other they sell CDs containing music for which they haven’t obtained copyright permission.

In the past we’ve covered many disputes between artists and labels, where the latter is being accused or even sued for using songs without permission. Just a few months ago Latin America’s biggest artist, Alejandro Fernández, sent the police to a Sony Music office to confiscate over 6,000 CDs that the label refused to return, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The labels have made a habit of using songs from a wide variety of artists for compilation CDs without securing the rights. They simply use the recording and make note of it on “pending list” so they can deal with it later. This has been going on since the 1980s and since then the list of unpaid tracks (or copyright infringements) has grown to 300,000.

Growing tired of the labels’ piracy, a group of artists have filed a class-action lawsuit in Canada against four major labels connected to the CRIA, the local equivalent of the RIAA. In October last year Warner Music, Sony BMG Music, EMI Music and Universal Music were sued for illegal use of thousands of tracks and at present the case is still underway.

How and why this blatant copyright infringement could go on for years is a mystery, but the labels’ double standard has been picked up by the plaintiffs as well. “The conduct of the defendant record companies is aggravated by their strict and unremitting approach to the enforcement of their copyright interests against consumers,” the artists argue in their claim for damages.

The suit is still ongoing but already the labels have admitted to owing at least $50 million for infringing the rights of artists, and this figure could grow as high as 6 billion. So who are the real pirates here?

Update: The correct figure is 6 instead of 60 billion.

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