The Annals of Copyright Number 7 « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles

The Annals of Copyright Number 7

Copyright Owners “Make Some Noise”
for Infringement of Their Songs

Protecting your own copyrights is of paramount importance. See “Annals of Copyright Number 2.” Vigilance in avoiding violations of others’ copyrights is equally necessary to prevent expensive legal disputes. See “The Annals of Copyright Number 3”. Monster Energy has learned this the hard way in a lawsuit brought by Beastie Boys. See Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy Co.

To promote its products, Monster Energy engages in so-called “lifestyle marketing.” As the Beastie Boys judge observed: “This entails sponsoring action-sport athletes and musicians, promoting concert and “festival-styled” tours, and hosting events. Monster’s advertising goal is to create an aggressive and fun “brand personality,” which will lead consumers to associate its beverages with music, action sports, video games, and attractive girls … (“Monster is a lifestyle in a can.”).

Monster strayed into the copyright infringement minefield when it made a four minute, six second video filled with Beastie Boys’ music and containing other, written references to the group. Beastie Boys “made some noise” when they sued Monster for copyright infringement and false endorsement under the federal Lanham Act. This law protects against trademark infringement and other actions that are “likely to cause confusion . . . as to the origin, sponsorship or approval” of a person’s distinct product or service.

Monster Energy admitted to copyright infringement but claimed its actions were not intentional. The Beastie Boys pressed on through a jury trial on the false endorsement claim and on whether some 15 instances of copyright infringement were willful. The jury found Monster Energy liable for 10 infringements, awarding damages at $120,000 per instance. It also awarded $500,000 for the false endorsement claim, for a total of $1,620,000.

So how did a large company like Monster Energy go wrong? Its first error was “recklessly disregarding” Beastie Boys’ rights by making a video with five songs by the group without seeking any permission. The court found Monster Energy’s infringement “derived from a gross lack of attention at corporate level to others’ intellectual property rights.” In contrast with protecting its own copyrights vigorously, it lacked any copyright licensing policy or training for its staff using others’ music for videos or other purposes.

These days, it is common for companies and organizations to use copyrighted music and other content that they do not own for a variety of purposes. For some uses, including playing music at an event, there are licensing agencies – primarily BMI, ASCAP and SESAC – that provide licenses permitting the action. For other uses, such as putting music in commercials, multiple types of licenses may be required. As Monster Energy learned, if you do not seek help to ensure you are covered with all the needed licenses, it may turn into an expensive mistake. While the Beastie Boys set-back will not put Monster Energy out of business, a similar judgment against a smaller company might have that result.
For help in obtaining the appropriate licenses, contact Helena Kobrin, a knowledgeable copyright attorney.

Helena Kobrin, February 4, 2015