June 19, 2002, 9:52 AM — Heightening the tension surrounding the music industry's efforts to guard its content in the digital realm, the five major record labels were hit with a class action lawsuit last week for producing and distributing CDs with copyright protection controls.
The suit, filed in the Superior Court of the State of California in Los Angeles County last Tuesday, names as plaintiffs two California residents who purchased CDs that they claim were "defective."
In an effort to safeguard their copyright-protected works, the major music labels have recently begun distributing CDs with controls that prevent them from being copied or played on various consumer electronic devices such as personal computers, CD players and car stereos.
The class action suit, filed against Universal Music Group Inc., EMI Music Publishing, BMG Entertainment Inc., Sony Music Entertainment Inc. and Warner Music Group, represents one of consumers' first legal challenges to the music industry's efforts to clamp down on piracy by employing technological controls.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants "manufacture, disseminate, advertise and sell defective audio discs." Furthermore, it rails against the labels' practice of not informing consumers in many cases that the discs they have purchased include copy protection.
The music industry has said, however, that music creators have the right to protect their works from piracy and have done so for years without it being it being deemed unlawful. Furthermore, they point to the fact that only a handful of CDs have been distributed with the protections included so far.
In a statement, Cary Sherman, president of the Recording Industry Association of America Inc. (RIAA), called the class action suit "frivolous," adding that "the plaintiffs' bar has sunk to a new low, filing a lawsuit over practices that most U.S. companies have not even engaged in so that they can stake out their claim to class action attorneys fees."
However, the plaintiffs claim that the labels are knowingly selling "dysfunctional" CDs.
The plaintiffs are seeking to enjoin the defendants from manufacturing, distributing and selling the copy protected CDs, as well as monetary damages and reimbursement for attorney's fees and expenses.
The scuffle over copy-protected CDs is just one issue in a slew of recent cases where technology and intellectual property issues are coming to a head.
A similar battle is being fought against legislation proposed by Senator Fritz Hollings, a South Carolina Democrat, which seeks to include copyright protection technology in all digital media devices.