Record Labels and Music Publishers Claim Copyright Infringement on Unauthorized Use of Mixtapes Sent to Prison Inmates

Sheet musicMusic industry record labels and publishers filed suit for copyright infringement of their sound recordings and musical compositions on January 6, 2015 against Centric Group, LLC and Keefe Group, Inc. These companies are behind Access Securepak, an entity that sends “care packages” of “prison-friendly” goods to incarcerated persons in at least forty states. UMG Recordings, Capital Records, Universal Music Corp. and their affiliated publishing companies, among others, have taken issue with Access Securepak’s sale of mixtapes, compilations of various musical works by numerous artists, which contain content owned by the music labels and publishing companies. UMG and the other entities have sent multiple cease and desist letters to Access Surepak demanding that the business stop selling the mixtapes because Access Securepak never obtained a license or permission to lawfully reproduce and sell the works.    All of their demands were ignored, and the case is now in the hands of the District Court in the Central District of California.

To understand why there are several record labels and music publishers involved in this lawsuit, and why copyright infringement of sound recordings and musical compositions is claimed, a basic understanding of music copyright law is necessary. Music copyright law is one of the more complicated areas of copyright law because multiple parties can hold different copyright interests in the same work.

Music that is heard on the radio, commonly referred to as a “song,” is known throughout the music industry as a “sound recording.” A sound recording consists of the vocal performance by the artist or group of artists, the performance of accompanying musicians, and the contributions of a music producer and recording engineer. Each individual who contributes to the creation of the sound recording possesses a copyright interest in the sound recording. Additionally, the music label that releases the sound recording also has an interest in the work; sometimes, it can hold the entire copyright interest if the rights of the sound recording have been assigned to the label by the artists, producers and recording engineer.

The second set of copyright interests exists in the underlying music and lyrics of a piece, which is known as a “musical composition,” or what the music industry considers a “song.”   Often, the lyricist and composer of a work have nothing to do with the artist or group of artists who perform the song. The copyright interests in the music and lyrics are held by the individuals who wrote them or by a publishing company who has been assigned the rights by the original composers.

The record labels and music publishers involved in this lawsuit are seeking $150,000, which is maximum statutory damages, for each copyrighted work infringed. The mixtapes sold on Access Surepak include the copyrighted works of artists such as James Brown, Eminem, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, and LL Cool J. These artists assigned their rights in the sound recordings, musical compositions or both to the plaintiffs who are now trying to cease, and recover for, the unauthorized exploitation of their rights. Ironically, the mixtapes, which were among the most inexpensive items sold on Access Surepak’s website, may end up costing the company its greatest expense.

If you have copyright interests that need to be registered or enforced, or any other intellectual property needs, the attorneys at Korngut Paleudis LLC have the experience and expertise necessary to apprise you of your rights and vigilantly protect your intellectual property. Please contact the firm either through our website or at (212) 949-0138 in New York City, (914) 220-8270 in White Plains, or (203) 355-3635 in Stamford, Connecticut.