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Copyright Infringement: What Goes Around, Comes Around

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Toronto, ONThe latest word on copyright infringement casts a hypocritical glow over the recording industry, which has been going after individual file shares (people who download music off the internet for free). The same industry that sued a the single mother for millions in restitution for infringement is now being sued itself—for copyright infringement.

A massive class action lawsuit launched in Canada in October of last year could result in a payout of as much as $6 billion to artists whose songs did not receive benefit of rights acquisition prior to use and inclusion by a host of major record labels—among them Warner Music Canada, Sony BMG Music Canada, EMI Music Canada and Universal Music Canada—all members of the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA).

Michael Geist, a lawyer and law professor who writes about Internet law, explained in the Toronto Star on December 7 how a change in Canada's copyright laws in the 1980s allowed record companies to acquire rights and permission more easily from copyright holders for each use of a song or work.

Rather than having to seek individual permission, the industry acquired the legal recourse to use the work at will and place that use on a so-called "pending list" for rights acquisition and payment of royalties et al, at a later time.

The allegation is that acquisition of those rights and the accompanying payment has never happened.

According to Geist, the record companies have already admitted to their transgression, indicating that it probably owes about $50 million to artists whose work has been used (and profited from) without permission for more than 20 years.

It has been reported that upwards of 300,000 songs are at issue here.

The lead plaintiff for the massive class action—possibly the largest copyright infringement case in Canadian history—is the estate of Chet Baker, a leading jazz musician in the 1950s who died in 1988. Class participants are hoping for statutory damages of $20,000 for each infringement, which could bring an award in excess of $6 billion.

The plaintiffs are also seeking punitive damages, arguing that "the conduct of the defendant record companies is aggravated by their strict and unremitting approach to the enforcement of their copyright interests against consumers."

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