'Over the Rainbow' Composer's Estate Sues Big Tech Companies Alleging a 'Massive Piracy Operation'
Harold Arlen's estate claims Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Pandora and others have been complicit in distributing copied versions of his work without paying mechanical royalties.
"Over the Rainbow" song composer Harold Arlen's estate filed a 148-page lawsuit against some of the largest music tech giants alleging they have committed widespread piracy. Arlen's estate, being helmed by his son Sam, is suing Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Pandora, as well as multiple international distribution outlets, accusing them of running a "massive piracy operation for the purpose of generating profits from their sales and streams of pirated recordings."
The lawsuit claims that as technology evolved it allowed increased bootlegging by musical pirates that has enabled them to duplicate popular pre-existing recordings. Arlen's estate claims that, because of this pirating, it has not been paid mechanical royalties owed whenever the composer's work is copied and distributed.
In the lawsuit filed May 9 in California federal court, Arlen's estate claims that while his songs have been streamed countless times that many of these digital entities are actually selling "bootlegged" copies and doing so without obtaining any of the requisite licenses that would allow them to legally reproduce, distribute, stream or sell his music. Sam Arlen says he is the rightful holder of the copyright of Arlen's songs, having acquired them by termination notices and because he is the sole statutory heir, and has not been receiving the royalties owed.
Arlen, who died in 1986, in addition to composing the music for "Over the Rainbow" also composed the song "Ding, Dong! The Witch Is Dead" and "We're Off to See the Wizard" for the Wizard of Oz. Arlen's other seminal works include "I've Got the World on a String," "Stormy Weather," "Get Happy" and "It's Only a Paper Moon." His songs have been recorded many times by artists including Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Billie Holliday, Miles Davis, Ray Charles and others. In 1996, Arlen was honored with his own United States postal stamp and in 2014 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
While Arlen's composed songs have been extremely popular, his legal team determined the music industry has been mostly selling pirated version of his songs. His attorneys found more than 6,000 pirated recordings of his songs being sold over multiple outlets. They claim that Arlen's legitimate songs are sold on these websites alongside pirated or bootlegged versions that are available for less money. His legal team included side-by-side examples of legitimate albums with the registered trademark sold alongside almost identical looking albums without the requisite label logo trademark sign. Attorneys for Arlen's estate accuse the online companies of having knowledge this was infringing on Arlen's trademark, but continued to do so. The suit claims their conduct has been "willful and intentional" and demands that they be held accountable.
"Anything less than maximum statutory damages encourage infringement, amount to a slap on the wrist, and reward multibillion and trillion dollar companies that rule the digital music markets for their willful infringement on a grand scale," the lawsuit states.
Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Pandora did not respond to Billboard's request for comment at time of publishing.