Sony Says United Airlines Is in the Mile-High Infringement Club

Music corporation claims passengers have no right to songs and videos by Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, others

united airlines, sony music entertainment
United Airlines is facing a lawsuit from Sony Music Photo by Getty Images
Kyle McGovern WRITTEN BY
Kyle McGovern

Sony Music Entertainment and its subsidiaries have brought a lawsuit against United Airlines and Inflight Productions, arguing that the companies are willfully violating copyright laws by making thousands of songs and music videos available to passengers.

As Law360 reports, Sony filed a complaint in New York federal court on October 22 that states the music giant has not given United permission to feature its recordings in the airline's "interactive, on-demand" or pre-programmed services. The suit claims that under federal copyright laws, Sony's labels are entitled to $150,000 per work, which includes material by Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Bruce Springsteen, and Carrie Underwood (via the Hollywood Reporter). 

The labels under Sony's umbrella — including Arista Music, LaFace Records LLC, and Zomba Recording LLC — allege that London-based programmer Inflight Productions are duplicating the songs and videos and passing them over to United, who load the content onto servers onboard their planes, where they're enjoyed by the airline's customers.

"The harm to plaintiffs and their artists, who invest millions of dollars and enormous amounts of time and creative energy to produce and exploit the copyrighted works infringed by defendants, is both manifest and irreparable," the complaint reads.

Also named in the suit is Rightscom, a consultancy that looks after Inflight's copyright issues. Prior to the lawsuit being filed, Sony's labels say they were approached by a representative with Rightscom who "candidly acknowledged" that the duplications were taking place. According to THR, the rep also said that "it is going to be necessary for Inflight to contact the labels individually to put the necessary licenses in place."

The complaint states that while talks regarding said licenses began, the defendants continued to offer United's customers access to the copyrighted music. Now, Sony is seeking statutory, compensatory, and punitive damages, as well as an injunction to stop the in-flight use of their songs and videos. Stay tuned for more updates as they arrive.

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