Aimee Mann has filed a big lawsuit against a little-known company with serious clout in the digital music business. As the Hollywood Reporter points out, the singer-songwriter has slapped MediaNet, prevously known as MusicNet, with a copyright-infringement lawsuit seeking $18 million in damages. Never heard of MediaNet? That just demonstrates how complicated the music industry has become in the streaming era.
Mann, the Grammy- and Oscar-nominated artist behind "Save Me," from Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, claims that MediaNet intentionally infringed upon the copyright for 120 of her songs. She claims the company continued to use her music after she sent a notice in 2005 terminating their licensing agreement. Did she at least get paid for it? Well, Mann maintains the only royalties she has received from MediaNet since September 30, 2005, consist of a $20 advance that she has since returned.
MediaNet has rejected the allegations. "This claim on behalf of Aimee Mann is without merit," says MediaNet CEO Frank Johnson, CEO of MediaNet, as quoted by THR. "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.”
MediaNet takes care of the back-end operations for digital services such as MOG, Songza, and Zune, according to its website. Its catalog includes more than 22 million songs from all three major labels and more than 80,000 independent labels. As MusicNet, the company began in 1999 as a joint venture between EMI, AOL, BMG and RealNetworks. A private-equity firm bought the company in 2005 for an undisclosed amount.
Mann's lawyer, Maryann Marzano of Gradstein & Marzano, is portraying the lawsuit as part of an artist revolt that also includes Thom Yorke's recent criticism of Spotify. Marzano told THR, "Not only does this case seek redress for Aimee Mann against one of the world's largest but least known providers of online music, it also serves as a call to other artists to follow the lead set by Radiohead and Pink Floyd to put an end to the unlicensed, uncompensated use of their music by online services."
Still, it's difficult for a lay-streamer to know how much if anything Mann's case has to do with Yorke's specific complaints about Spotify. The lawsuit ultimately may illuminate just how absurdly complex it has gotten for anyone who wants to try making money from their own music.
Before the recent streaming debate, a digital-sales copyright case involving Eminem went all the way to the Supreme Court. Sooner or later, someone with authority may also need to sort through the tangled thicket of digital-streaming copyright law. May we suggest Mann's recent musical partner, punk-rock firebrand Ted Leo?