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Two more estates join the Harold Arlen litigation against Apple, Amazon et al

By | Published on Tuesday 20 August 2019

The estates of two other legendary American songwriters have joined a legal battle that accuses tech giants and an assortment of independent record labels of exploiting song rights on various digital music platforms without licence.

This lawsuit was originally filed by the son of Harold Arlen – the man who wrote ‘Over The Rainbow’, ‘I’ve Got The World On A String’ and ‘Get Happy’, among many other famous works. The litigation argues that an assortment of labels and distributors have been uploading old recordings that they don’t actually own onto an assortment of streaming platforms and download stores.

That would mainly be a matter for whoever owns the sound recording rights in those tracks. But, the Arlen legal case points out, the labels and/or digital platforms also need a licence covering the accompanying song rights.

And while there is a compulsory licence covering the mechanical copying of songs in the US, that only applies where the recordings being distributed are legit. If the downloading or streaming of a recording constitutes copyright infringement, then the compulsory licence does not apply, so the song rights are being infringed too.

Lawyers involved in the litigation said when filing the original lawsuit: “This case is about massive music piracy operations in the digital music stores and streaming services of some of the largest tech companies in the world. Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Pandora and their distributors have joined with notorious music pirates to sell and stream thousands of pirated recordings embodying copyrighted works owned by [the Arlen estate]”.

That lawsuit was filed in May, but now an amended complaint has been submitted listing the estates of two more songwriters as plaintiffs. Those are Harry Warren – whose works include ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, ‘You’ll Never Know’, ‘That’s Amore’ and ‘Nagasaki’ – and Ray Henderson – whose credits include ‘I’m Sitting On Top of the World, ‘The Best Things In Life Are Free’ and ‘Has Anybody Seen My Girl?’

Confirming the expansion of the lawsuit, one of the lawyers working on the case, Matthew Schwartz, told reporters: “The case confirms that music piracy continues to be a serious problem. This new filing joining the works of Harold Arlen with those of Harry Warren and Ray Henderson demonstrates that the case is gaining momentum as more songwriters and music publishers realise the scope of the problem and what is at stake”.