Suit claims show infringed on copyrighted recordings

A lawsuit filed by several U.S. record labels against producers of Ellen DeGeneres’ show alleges that the new “American Idol” co-host’s p.m. talker infringed on copyrighted recordings by multi-platinum acts associated with “Idol” producer-creator Simon Fuller’s firm.

Irony-tinged brief was lodged in federal court in Nashville on Wednesday, the same day Fox announced that DeGeneres would take Paula Abdul’s chair on the talent show.

A source familiar with the suit said it was long pending, and the timing was purely coincidental.

DeGeneres is not a defendant in the action, filed against Time Warner, Warner Bros. Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, Telepictures Productions, WAD Productions, and A Very Good Production. Plaintiffs include Sony Music Entertainment, main conduit for “Idol” recording spin-offs, plus more than a dozen other majors.

Suit claims that the producers of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” failed to secure necessary licenses for the recordings used on the talkfest as part of host’s daily “dance-over” bit.

According to an exhibit listing dozens of unlicensed songs, tracks infringed upon allegedly included at least two songs by onetime “Idol” contestants, “Home” by Daughtry and “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson.

Daughtry, fronted by 2006 finalist Chris Daughtry, is managed by Fuller’s 19 Entertainment and records for the 19 Recordings imprint, distributed by plaintiff Sony Music. Clarkson, “Idol” winner in the debut 2002 season, was formerly managed by Fuller.

Much of the music recorded by “Idol” winners and runners-up is released by Fuller’s 19 via a distribution deal with RCA Records, one of Sony’s imprints.

A Sony corporate spokesman and a spokesman for 19 had no comment on the suit. An RCA spokeswoman had no comment.

Action alleges that when label reps approached DeGeneres’ producers and asked why the necessary recording licenses had not been obtained, they were told that the producers “did not roll that way.”

The document adds dryly, “As sophisticated consumers of music, Defendants knew full well that, regardless of the way they rolled, under the Copyright Act, and under state law for the pre-1972 recordings, they needed a license to use the sound recordings lawfully.”

The suit seeks unspecified damages.

Scott Rowe, spokesman for Telepictures Productions, wrote in an e-mailed statement that the company has been working with the record labels for months to resolve the issue and remains willing to resolve it on “amicable and reasonable terms.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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