Aimee Mann has filed a lawsuit over digital music that could result in her being awarded up to $18 million in damages. The singer and her lawyer, Maryann Marzano, claim that Mann and other artists are being duped by a company called MediaNet that allegedly licenses tracks it doesn’t have the rights to.
The case is a little confusing, but it breaks down thusly: According to Mann, about 120 of her songs are being provided to places like Yahoo Music, Playlist.com, eBay, and various online radio sources by MediaNet. But that the company—which was founded in 1999 by EMI, AOL, BMG, and Real Networks, but was sold to a private equity firm in 2005—doesn’t have the rights to her songs, nor does it compensate her for plays. Though Mann once had a distribution agreement with the company, she claims she tried to terminate it in 2005, to no avail. She claims she hasn’t been paid any royalties from the company since Sept. 30, 2005, with the exception of a $20 check she received (and promptly returned) this past March. Mann is seeking statutory damages for willful copyright infringement on the songs. If the case goes her way, she could end up being awarded up to $18 million.
As The Hollywood Reporter points out, “The laws that govern the distribution of music are no doubt complicated and have grown more complex over time.” Compositions are protected by their own copyright, and recorded versions of compositions have their own copyright. In the ‘90s, when Congress extended licensing to cover digital purchases of LPs, it didn’t extend those rights to streaming media, and therein lies the rub. While companies like Pandora have negotiated with the Copyright Royalty Board and pay licensing frees, and Spotify has worked directly with labels, MediaNet doesn’t appear to have done any of this, operating instead as a sort of back-alley clearing house for a bunch of websites with questionable scruples. A 2012 lawsuit filed against the company claimed that “23 percent of MediaNet’s catalog remains unlicensed.”
For those interested in supporting Mann more directly, check out the singer's project with Ted Leo, The Both, at this September's A.V. Fest. Tickets are on sale now.
Update: Frank Johnson, CEO of MediaNet, has issued the following statement:
“This claim on behalf of Aimee Mann is without merit. MediaNet has had a license for her music since December 2003. We have been paying royalties regularly to her agents on her behalf. MediaNet is a supporter of artist rights and copyright and has been since we launched in 2001. We expect this matter will be resolved.”