Universal Music Group announced a copyright-infringement lawsuit against MySpace on Friday, shortly after Kingdom Come, the heavily hyped comeback album by one of its biggest artists, Jay-Z, was leaked on the site.
With the Jigga leak the last straw in an already tense relationship, the world's biggest music company filed suit against the most popular social-networking site and its parent company, News Corp., in federal court in Los Angeles, alleging that MySpace encourages "rampant" infringement on UMG's copyrights.
Seeking an injunction from future infringement and $150,000 for each unauthorized song or video posted on MySpace, the suit claims that rather than being founded on user-generated content, much of MySpace's content is actually " 'user-stolen' intellectual property of others, and MySpace is a willing partner in that theft."
UMG also claims that MySpace — which it referred to in the suit as a "vast virtual warehouse" of pirated material — is aware that its many members have posted illegal bootleg videos and pirated recordings of Universal acts; among those cited are works by U2, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey and the Killers. Universal claims that the site has ignored its own warnings to users about not posting copywritten material without first getting permission from the copyright's owner, and that MySpace makes money by selling ads to its millions of users, who are attracted by the possibility of getting free access to copyrighted songs and videos.
"The suit is intended to protect the rights of our artists and songwriters and do something about the massive infringement that is going on," said a Universal spokesperson.
According to The New York Times, the suit is seen by experts as part of a strategy by Universal to test parts of a federal law that gives "safe harbor" to Internet companies that follow certain procedures to filter out copyrighted works. The law requires that sites remove such content after being notified by the copyright holder.
MySpace responded to the suit with a statement in which it expressed surprise at the action and denied the charges. "We have been keeping UMG closely apprised of our industry-leading efforts to protect creators' rights, and it's unfortunate they decided to file this unnecessary and meritless litigation," the statement reads. "We provide users with tools to share their own work — we do not induce, encourage or condone copyright violation in any way." A MySpace spokesperson declined to comment further for this story.
If Universal is able to win its suit, the Times said it could leverage the victory as a way to get the upper hand in licensing negotiations with user-driven sites like YouTube and MySpace.
At around the same time the suit was being filed, MySpace announced that it plans to launch a tool that will make it easier and faster for copyright holders to remove content they allege is unauthorized from the site by digitally flagging it, after which it would be deleted by MySpace. Last month, MySpace announced plans to use fingerprinting technology that would block the posting of unauthorized music on the site. The Universal spokesperson said the latter was not enough to hold off the litigation, arguing, "Considering 98 percent of the infringement is on videos, how does an audio filter help?"
MySpace had come under attack from Universal boss Doug Morris in September, when Morris referred to YouTube and MySpace as copyright infringers, though the Times reported that Universal did successfully negotiate a stake in YouTube just before it was bought by Google for $1.65 billion (see "May We Suggest GooTube? Google Buys YouTube In $1.6 Billion Deal).
Licensing talks between Universal and MySpace had reached a dead end recently, according to the Universal source, who added that the legal action would not impact Universal's Interscope Records' deal to distribute albums from acts signed to a label run jointly with MySpace, which just released the major-label debut by rapper Mickey Avalon.