There are few areas of the law more important to the music industry than copyright protection. Piracy and other forms of IP violations prop up a multi million dollar industry that profits off of music creators proprietary material. Removing music that violates copyright is a regulatory requirement and a constant struggle for music distributors. Recently, the practices around removing violative music was the subject of a class action lawsuit.

Requirements to Remove Infringing Content: The DMCA

Under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), platforms are required to remove content, such as music, when they receive a formal takedown notice from a rightsholder claiming the content infringes on copyright. Removing the content gives the platform “safe harbor” against being sued for copyright infringement.

The law also allows the entity whose content has been targeted for takedown to file a rebuttal, within 14 days of the takedown notice. The law says the content can stay up on the platform if the rebuttal shows the accused party plans to resolve the issue in court.

Doeman Music Group Media vs. DistroKid

In a recently filed complaint in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, indie label Doeman Music Group Media alleged that DistroKid breached its fiduciary duty to the label by failing to provide information that would help the label defend against a copyright infringement claim.

DistroKid is an independent digital music distribution service that offers musicians the opportunity to distribute and sell or stream their music through online retailers such as iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and more. 

The claim argues that DistroKid’s policies make it impossible for labels and artists to defend themselves against allegations of copyright infringement that lead to their music being taken down from platforms. 

Doeman claims that DistroKid has a fiduciary duty to provide information that would help the label defend against these claims. The complaint states, “On information and belief, there are hundreds — if not thousands — of DistroKid account-holders who have had non-infringing uses of expression taken down because of wrongful takedown notices sent to platforms.”

The complaint points to several instances where Doeman was not given sufficient information to rebut takedown requests. For example, in 2021 DistroKid removed an entire EP from all streaming platforms after receiving a complaint that the content violated copyrights. Doeman sought to challenge the removal but claims that DistroKid kept important information from them that would allow them to challenge the claim.

Implications of the Lawsuit

Historically, the responsibilities of platforms have largely been to the IP rightsholders under the DMCA. The outcome of this lawsuit could change the fundamental responsibilities of these platforms and require them to implement policies and develop tools that also help the allegedly infringing parties.

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