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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.


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.



Top Rated Comments

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18 weeks ago
When I saw the headline, I figured they were being sued for that hideous rainbow monstrosity they put up in the park.
Rating: 16 Votes
18 weeks 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.
Rating: 14 Votes
18 weeks 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.
Rating: 14 Votes
18 weeks 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.
Rating: 12 Votes
18 weeks 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?
Rating: 12 Votes
18 weeks 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?
Rating: 10 Votes
18 weeks ago

Indefinitely? Why should a work of art stop belonging to the creator?


It depends what you mean by "belonging" and what you think the appropriate penalties for "stealing" are.

If I take your car, you no longer have a car and are obviously disadvantaged. If I make an unauthorised copy of your work of art then all you have lost is some hypothetical opportunity to charge me money. We don't prosecute car thieves because "if everybody stole cars then car makers would lose money". ...but some copyright holders are pretending that every single unauthorised copy is equivalent to the "theft" of the cover price of that item, and claiming damages on that basis.

I've a certain amount of sympathy with cases like this that are about either obvious cover versions or even copies of original recordings being re-sold for profit - although the level of damages being claimed are ridiculous, and the "beneficiaries" are often not the original artists but the record company or corporation who bought the rights from the artist's grandchildren.

Trouble is, when descendants and corporations try to monetise those rights we see genuine artists being sued because their work vaguely resembles some old tune owned by a well-lawyered estate - and that has the potential to kill art stone dead, because all art builds on previous work, and inspires future work. The end of that road is that only huge corporations with mouse ears, an army of lawyers and a bunch of pet politicians can risk playing the game (a situation which they'd be delighted with). Want to share your original work online? Tough luck if no internet provider will risk hosting it on the off-chance that it might be accused of using the same 12 notes as "Let it Go" - whether or not it actually legally infringes anything is irrelevant - you can't afford to defend it and it will be taken down at a mere accusation from some Artificially Stupid bot. That's not FUD, it's already happening - just read the news.

We're in an age when anybody with talent, a Visa-card-credit-limit's worth of equipment and an internet connection can make and distribute an acceptable recording. That is a huge threat to the established industry, and overbearing copyright laws are a major weapon against it.

So be careful about making reasonable, but simplistic pronouncements - the devil is in the detail and the end result can be the exact opposite of what you intended - such as all of the "small fish" and newcomers being excluded from the industry because they can't afford the liability insurance. Also look at who are the most vocal in favour of strict copyright - the corporations and (estates of) successful artists who have already made a shedload of money, probably weren't even the original creators, and who have a huge portfolio of rights over which to counter-sue any challengers.
Rating: 9 Votes
18 weeks ago

So how long of a monopoly do you think is fair for original works?

Indefinitely? Why should a work of art stop belonging to the creator?
Rating: 8 Votes
18 weeks 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.

I agree with you but it would literally take an act of Congress to shorten copyright terms and special interests (with giant mouse ears) have poured tons of money into lobbying efforts to extend copyright terms. Books, movies and songs used to be protected by copyright for 56 years but in 1976, Congress passed a law retroactively extending copyright protection to 75 years (largely to protect Disney's intellectual property all the way back to 1923). Then, in 1998, Congress passed another 20 year extension to make copyrights last 95 years.
Rating: 8 Votes
18 weeks ago
The usual way would be to send a DMCA takedown request to Apple, then if Apple doesn't remove the music you can sue Apple and the publisher of the music, or if the publisher of the music sends a DMCA counter notice and Apple puts the music back into the store, you can then sue the publisher.

Without a DMCA notice sent, they will have a hard time suing Apple successfully. If a DMCA notice was sent and Apple ignored it, then Apple is on the hook for damages. We'll see which one it is.
Rating: 8 Votes

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