Back in the dawn of the digital music era, the recording industry was terrified of the prospect of consumers being able to make copy after copy of their B-52s and Right Said Fred CDs without the quality loss associated with tape-to-tape transfers. In an effort to stop the music folks from repeatedly suing home audio companies, they reached a compromise in 1992, the Audio Home Recording Act, which basically says “we won’t sue you for making a device that could allow a consumer to infringe on copyrights if you register the device with the Copyright Office, pay a royalty on every device you distribute and also have some way of ensuring that copies are less-than-perfect.”
Some of the royalties collected under the AHRA are handled by the Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies, which filed a class-action suit last week against Ford, GM and a pair of the car companies’ tech partners, Clarion and Denso.
In the complaint [PDF], the AARC alleges that the auto biggies “violated and continue to violate the AHRA by manufacturing and distributing, or importing and distributing,” CD-ripping technologies in certain vehicles that are not registered with the Copyright Office, and for which the carmakers aren’t paying royalties.
The Denso-supplied Hard Drive Device in certain GM vehicles — including the Buick LaCrosse, Buick Regal, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac CTS-V, Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Cruze, Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet Volt, and GMC Terrain — copies tracks from CDs onto a storage drive allowing for later disc-free playback of ripped songs.
According to the AARC, the system is not only unregistered with the Copyright folks, but it also lacks copyright controls like labeling copied tracks as “copies” so that these songs can not subsequently be copied again.
Meanwhile, the similar Ford Jukebox feature can be found on numerous models, including the Ford Escape, Ford Expedition, Ford Flex, Ford Fusion, Ford Mustang, Ford Taurus, Lincoln MKS, Lincoln MKT, Lincoln MKZ, and Lincoln Navigator. It can also store tracks from inserted CDs for later playback without the discs. And just like the GM system, the AARC says it’s not registered, isn’t paying royalties, and lacks serial copying protections.
The AARC is seeking to represent a class of plaintiffs that it admits is “so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable.”
According to the complaint, it includes “tens of thousands of copyright owners and featured recording artists,” including all “featured recording artist[s] who perform on a sound recording that has been distributed,” and “all owners of an exclusive right to reproduce a sound recording of a musical work.” Additionally, the class “contains all associations or other organizations that represent the foregoing persons or are engaged in licensing rights in musical works to music users on behalf of writers and publishers.”
That’s a lot of people with a lot of different interests but the AARC contends that “Separate actions by individual members of the Class would create a risk of
inconsistent adjudications regarding Defendants’ AHRA obligations that, as a practical matter, would be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the individual adjudications or would substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests.”
If the AARC is successful, it could result in a payout of hundreds of millions of dollars.