Non-profit digital library Internet Archive got slammed by a $400 million lawsuit from several leading record labels over its community effort to collect and protect archaic musical mediums.
UMG Recordings, Capitol Records, Concord Bicycle Assets, CMGI Recorded Music Assets, Sony Music Entertainment, and Arista Music filed a civil action against the free online library for its Great 78 Project. The complaint alleges Internet Archive is violating their rights to protected pre-1972 recordings by copying the physical records into digital files for distribution.
The plaintiffs claim Internet Archive “willfully uploaded, distributed, and digitally transmitted those illegally copied sound recordings millions of times” and included “hundreds of thousands of works by some of the greatest artists of the Twentieth Century.”
The complaint lists Frank Sinatra, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong among the artists Internet Archive digitalized.
“As a non-profit library, we take this matter seriously and are currently reviewing the lawsuit with our legal counsel,” said Internet Archive in a blog post.
The Great 78 Project preserves 78 rpm records that are 70 to 120 years old and cast in shellac resin. Over time, they get brittle and fall apart. The effort aims to protect the musical quality as first recorded, unlike remastering techniques, which remove the scratch, surface noise, and pops accompanying the music.
Digitization creates a digital reference of underrepresented artists and genres that will outlast the archaic medium. They serve as an aid to researchers, librarians, and professors.
The labels outlined in the complaint provide legitimate channels for customers to legally access music, such as Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple’s iTunes, and Tidal. They said the Internet Archive cuts into their revenue.
However, Internet Archive said the record labels and the library have different goals for digitizing music.
“When people want to listen to music they go to Spotify,” said Brewster Kahle, digital librarian at the Internet Archive. “When people want to study 78 rpm sound recordings as they were originally created, they go to libraries like the Internet Archive. Both are needed. There shouldn’t be conflict here.”
The record labels request a jury trial and seek damages for $150,000 per 2,700 works they consider copyright infringement.