Apple Sued by Estate of 'Over the Rainbow' Composer for Alleged Piracy

Apple and other tech firms are being sued for piracy by the estate of composer Harold Arlen for offering unauthorized copies of his songs, reports the BBC. Arlen's son, Sam Arlen, says he has found more than 6,000 unauthorized copies of his father's songs on Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft's services.

harold arlen
According to legal papers filed in Los Angeles and shared by AppleInsider, streaming services and download stores like iTunes are flooded with "bootleg" copies of Arlen's songs, robbing his estate of royalties. Arlen's work includes several American songbook classics like Over The Rainbow and Get Happy.

The 148-page filing claims the firms are engaged in "massive piracy operations" and provides several examples of alleged piracy. For instance, the official recording of Ethel Ennis' version of Arlen's song "For Every Man, There Is A Woman" is available on the RCA Victor label for $1.29 on iTunes. However, a separate version on the Stardust Records label - with the same cover art but the RCA Victor Logo edited out - is available for $0.89.

Some of the alleged pirate copies are said to contain the signature "skips, pops and crackles" of vinyl, indicating they've been duplicated from a record, rather than the original master tapes.

Arlen's estate is also suing dozens of record labels, which it claims have "continued to work with" alleged pirates despite having knowledge of copyright infringement "for several years".

"It is hard to imagine that a person walking into Tower Records, off the street, with arms full of CDs and vinyl records and claiming to be the record label for Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald, could succeed in having that store sell their copies directly next to the same albums released by legendary record labels, Capitol, RCA, and Columbia, and at a lower price," stated Arlen's lawyers.

"Yet, this exact practice occurs every day in the digital music business where there is... a complete willingness by the digital music stores and services to seek popular and iconic recordings from any source, legitimate or not, provided they participate in sharing the proceeds."

According to the BBC, part of the dispute stem from the differences in copyright law between the US and Europe. In the US, copyright for sound recordings made after 1923 and before 1972 is generally 95 years. But in the UK and Europe, copyright expires after 70 years, after which sound recordings enter the public domain.

Nevertheless, some of the recordings names in Arlen's court papers are still protected by copyright in Europe, and the actual compositions are not in the public domain (a writer's copyright continues for 70 years after their death).

The estate argues that songs like "It's Only A Paper Moon" and "Stormy Weather" are "monumental works of art" that are "national treasures," and is seeking around $4.5 million in damages. Apple and other companies named in the court papers have yet to comment.

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Top Rated Comments

robjulo Avatar
66 months ago
When I saw the headline, I figured they were being sued for that hideous rainbow monstrosity they put up in the park.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Lesser Evets Avatar
66 months ago
I hear a LOT of older music on iTunes, and much of it is issued through "no name" companies with cheesy cover graphics and the recordings are clearly hiss-pop vinyl rips. Many are plain awful.

It crossed my mind that quite a few record collectors might be issuing these illegally in order to make a few bucks and then hoof it. The real pity is that major record labels of the past aren't issuing ALL of their libraries on iTunes/Amazon/etc. Many forgotten masterpieces are buried in the vaults of Capitol, etc. Especially the jazz works of the 50s-70s.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
HappyMBAowner Avatar
66 months ago
This DMCA stuff is fairly new; it's not the only copyright enforcement tool. Maybe we could shorten copyright terms to 15yr or so and solve lots of these problems.
Sure... Do you write music? Most likely not. Otherwise, you would not write something like this. This comment shows your complete misunderstanding of private property, disrespect of composers' work, support of piracy and explains why music quality has decreased so much nowadays. Only people writing songs with three chords make it. It's because true composers keep their music for themselves.
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Krizoitz Avatar
66 months ago
Who writes these headlines.
1. Multiple major tech firms, including Apple, singling one out is misleading.
2. The composer of the song did not sue any of them, he’s dead. His ESTATE is suing. Rather different no?
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
2010mini Avatar
66 months ago
Indefinitely? Why should a work of art stop belonging to the creator?
Because that creator was inspired by works of other creators who’s works are public domain. Nothing new is done every work of art, no matter the medium, is built upon past work.

Art of today will inspire artists of the future. Now if they are unable to use it, creativity basically dies.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
jmeadlock Avatar
66 months ago
Sure... Do you write music? Most likely not. Otherwise, you would not write something like this. This comment shows your complete misunderstanding of private property, disrespect of composers' work, support of piracy and explains why music quality has decreased so much nowadays. Only people writing songs with three chords make it. It's because true composers keep their music for themselves.
So how long of a monopoly do you think is fair for original works?
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)