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Music-Licensing Firm Sues 4 YouTube Multichannel Networks for Copyright Infringement

Freeplay sues Disney's Maker Studios, AwesomenessTV, Big Frame and BroadbandTV; Machinima and CDS sued Freeplay earlier this month

Freeplay Music, a small music-licensing company, is suing four YouTube multichannel networks — Disney’s Maker Studios; AwesomenessTV and its Big Frame division; and BroadbandTV — alleging the MCNs have infringed hundreds of its copyrighted songs.

The lawsuits allege that Freeplay contacted the four MCNs about licensing the music, but that they were not willing to negotiate. The suits seek unspecified monetary damages and demand that the infringement cease.

“The systemic misappropriation of its copyrights without authorization has harmed our client,” said Oren Warshavsky, partner with law firm BakerHostetler, which is representing Freeplay. “We seek to right that wrong through this action.”

Meanwhile, earlier this month, two other YouTube MCNs — Machinima and Collective Digital Studio — filed their own lawsuits against Freeplay, calling the company a “copyright troll” that initially offered music it said was free to use then threatening to sue unless the MCNs entered into licensing deals. In a statement about the Machimina and CDS lawsuits, Freeplay said it is “preparing a response that will clearly demonstrate that the allegations and characterizations in the complaints are baseless.”

A rep for AwesomenessTV (majority-owned by DreamWorks Animation, with a 25% stake held by Hearst) declined to comment. Maker Studios (acquired by Disney last year) and BroadbandTV (controlled by European broadcast giant RTL Group) did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

New York-based Freeplay Music, founded in 2001, says it manages administrative rights to a catalog of “tens of thousands” of songs. The company claims it has issued more than 1.8 million licenses to date.

YouTube operates a copyright-infringement identification system, Content ID, which lets content owners claim rights to material uploaded without their permission and either request it be removed or collect ad revenue against it. But at the start of 2014, YouTube began requiring big multichannel networks to police copyright infringement for their managed channels.

Freeplay’s lawsuits against the four MCNs, filed Tuesday, each allege the multichannel networks failed to properly monitor music usage on their managed channels.

Such copyright disputes aren’t new in the YouTube world. The National Music Publishers’ Assn. in 2013 filed a copyright-infringement lawsuit against Fullscreen (later settled), alleging it used unlicensed songs in video clips. At the time, the trade group also said it had reached a settlement with Maker Studios.

Freeplay’s complaint against Maker alleges the Disney-owned MCN is infringing more than 45 copyrights in at least 60 videos; the suit against AwesomenessTV and Big Frame alleges the two MCNs are infringing approximately 14 copyrights in over 20 videos; and the lawsuit against BroadbandTV alleges it infringes more than 70 of Freeplay Music’s copyrights in at least 128 videos.

In 2013, Freeplay began offering free use of its music — now some 15,000 tracks — for personal use on YouTube, in exchange for allowing Freeplay to claim and monetize users’ videos via YouTube Content ID. But the company said MCNs must license those songs.

Freeplay Music founder Scott Schreer is a composer and producer of music that has appeared in TV shows and commercials whose credits include the “NFL on Fox” theme and jingles for Volkswagen, Gillette, Coca-Cola and Snickers.

The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

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