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Music publishers sue Roblox over alleged use of unlicensed songs

3 minute read

The Roblox logo is displayed on a banner on the front facade of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

  • Publisher group says video-game platform encourages infringement
  • Complaint says users incorporate unlicensed songs into their content
  • Roblox allegedly profits from song uploads, advertises music use

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(Reuters) - A group of music publishers that license songs by artists including the Rolling Stones, Ed Sheeran, and Ariana Grande has sued the makers of Roblox, a popular video game platform and creation system, in Los Angeles federal court for allegedly infringing copyrights on a “massive scale.”

The members of the National Music Publishers' Association said in a Wednesday complaint that Roblox Corp encourages users to upload unlicensed music to its library and incorporate it into the content they create, and profits from infringement by charging users to upload audio files and advertising the importance of music on the platform.

Roblox said in a Thursday statement that it was "surprised and disappointed" by the lawsuit -- which "represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Roblox platform operates" -- and that it doesn't tolerate copyright infringement.

NMPA President and CEO David Israelite said in a speech on Wednesday at the NMPA's annual meeting that Roblox has "made hundreds of millions of dollars by requiring users to pay every time they upload music onto the platform -- taking advantage of young people's lack of understanding about copyright -- and then they take virtually no action to prevent repeat infringement or alert users to the risks they are taking."

David Steinberg of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp represents the publishers.

Roblox's platform is popular with children and teenagers, and was valued at over $45 billion after it went public in March. According to the complaint, Roblox averages 36.2 million active users per day, with over 200 million total users.

Roblox aggressively monitors content on the platform to ensure that it's age-appropriate, but "takes a derelict approach" to copyright infringement, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, Roblox encourages users to upload and share popular music to make the games on its platform "more appealing and attractive to its young audience, fully aware that it has not obtained the necessary permissions."

The publishers also accused Roblox of failing to act against repeat infringers and utilizing copyright-filtering technology that infringers "routinely and easily bypass."

The complaint says the NMPA and other music rightsholders have brought the "rampant infringement" to Roblox's attention -- and that Roblox noted in its own financial statements that it "could be subject to an adverse judgment” if it's sued by labels or publishers -- but has still failed to act.

The case is ABKCO Music Inc. v. Roblox Corp., U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:21-cv-04705.

For the publishers: David Steinberg of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp.

Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at blake.brittain@thomsonreuters.com

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