Music labels sue Internet Archive over digitized record collection

By Blake Brittain

(Reuters) – Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and other record labels on Friday sued the nonprofit Internet Archive for copyright infringement over its streaming collection of digitized music from vintage records.

The labels’ lawsuit filed in a federal court in Manhattan said the Archive’s “Great 78 Project” functions as an “illegal record store” for songs by musicians including Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday.

They named 2,749 sound-recording copyrights that the Archive allegedly infringed. The labels said their damages in the case could be as high as $412 million.

Representatives for the Internet Archive did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint.

The San Francisco-based Internet Archive digitally archives websites, books, audio recordings and other materials. It compares itself to a library and says its mission is to “provide universal access to all knowledge.”

The Internet Archive is already facing another federal lawsuit in Manhattan from leading book publishers who said its digital-book lending program launched in the pandemic violates their copyrights. A judge ruled for the publishers in March, in a decision that the Archive plans to appeal.

The Great 78 Project encourages donations of 78-rpm records — the dominant record format from the early 1900s until the 1950s — for the group to digitize to “ensure the survival of these cultural materials for future generations to study and enjoy.” Its website says the collection includes more than 400,000 recordings.

The labels’ lawsuit said the project includes thousands of their copyright-protected recordings, including Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”.

The lawsuit said the recordings are all available on authorized streaming services and “face no danger of being lost, forgotten, or destroyed.”

(Reporting by Blake Brittain in Washington; Editing by David Bario and Diane Craft)