Monday, September 14, 2009

Copyrights & Music: Ellen DeGeneres Rolls Into Court

Last week - at virtually the same time she was named the new judge on "American Idol" to replace Paul Abdul - Ellen DeGeneres' production company was sued by several major record labels for regularly and routinely using music on her daytime TV show without a license. The lawsuit alleges that about 1,000 songs have been used without permission. We don't watch the DeGeneres show regularly, but we understand that she's a music lover and has a segment each show where she dances to a popular song selected by a DJ. But that's a use that requires a license and according to the lawsuit when the show's producers were advised the program needs a license, their response was "We don't roll that way". Perhaps not. But since the U.S. Copyright Act allows for damages of up to $150,000 per work infringed, the show could be exposed to up to $150 million in damages. We don't really think the production company is going to end up paying anywhere near that. But they probably will pay something and probably more than it would have cost them if they had gotten the licenses to begin with. This, of course, raises the age-old question: is it better to ask for permission or forgiveness?

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