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Sony Music sues Gymshark for misusing 'hundreds' of songs in ads

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Pedestrians are reflected in a logo of Sony Corp outside its showroom in Tokyo July 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yuya Shino

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  • British brand allegedly relies on social media ads with infringing music
  • Gymshark allegedly knew it needed licenses, chose to infringe

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(Reuters) - Sony Music accused British fitness apparel startup Gymshark of infringing its copyrights by misusing music from some of its most popular artists -- including Beyonce, Britney Spears, Travis Scott, and Harry Styles -- in social media ads, in a lawsuit filed in California federal court on Thursday.

Gymshark advertises almost exclusively through social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, and has engaged in "blatant, willful, and repeated copyright infringement" of "hundreds" of Sony Music's most valuable recordings, the complaint said.

Sony Music's attorney Rollin Ransom of Sidley Austin declined to comment. Sony Music didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, and neither did Gymshark.

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Solihull, England-based Gymshark has been valued at over $1.4 billion, and announced in June that it would open its first U.S. distribution center in July.

Gymshark's videos on social media "feature popular sound recordings as an integral part of the presentation; indeed, there is typically no speaking or sound other than the music integrated into the video," Sony Music said. "While these social media 'commercials' have been instrumental to Gymshark's success, Gymshark has not paid for the privilege to use the sound recordings that are featured in them."

Sony Music said Gymshark has "over 7 million engaged social media followers," and over 60 million when counting followers of its "Gymshark Athletes," influencers hired to promote its products.

The complaint says Sony Music licenses its songs to Gymshark competitors like Nike and Under Armour as well as other fitness companies like Peloton.

According to the complaint, Gymshark's head of public relations approached Sony Music in late 2020 about licensing one of its songs -- which "reflected Gymshark's awareness that a license was required" -- but never followed through.

The case is Sony Music Entm't v. Gymshark Ltd, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, No. 2:21-cv-05731.

For Sony Music: Rollin Ransom of Sidley Austin

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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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