Since the 1980s, record companies have taken tracks from
musicians who had not signed with them and put them on a "pending
list". This left thousands of musicians receiving no royalties as the
major labels used, distributed, and even profited off their tracks.
In Canada alone, this situation reached the point where 300,000 tracks, some
dated back to the 1980s were listed as "pending". Some
musicians were actively working -- to no avail -- to stop the record companies
from pirating their tracks.
Now they have a bit of vindication. After a long class action lawsuit
dating back to 2008, filed on behalf of angry independent musicians, Warner
Music, Sony BMG Music, EMI Music, and Universal Music have in effect
acknowledged that they were engaging in copyright infringement. They have
agreed to settle to the tune of $45M USD.
The Canadian Recording Industry Association CRIA, the Canadian sister
organization of the RIAA, and the organization that represents the major labels
claim that the payout is not an admission of guilt. They write, "The settlement is a compromise of
disputed claims and is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing by the
Apparently they believe that they did not pirate tracks or commit copyright
infringement because they hoped to pay artists at some point -- although they
never did. In essence, their argument also boils down that it was too
hard to find and legally purchase the tracks.
Unfortunately, the victory for the small artists is mostly symbolic. In
Canada, the U.S., and abroad, major record labels plan to continue to sell
music they've essentially pirated from "unknown artists". The
lawsuit does nothing to change this situation.
Equally unfortunate is the hypocrisy of these record labels, which have
perpetually worked to block the public from experiencing the same joys of
piracy that's made record company executives rich and corpulent.
They've been hard at work funneling money to politicians to try to pass new
international laws and treaties like ACTA, which could send peer-to-peer
engine developers and those who share pirated music and movies to prison for the first time.
This irony is duly noted by the artists in the lawsuit, who write, "The
conduct of the defendant record companies is aggravated by their strict and
unremitting approach to the enforcement of their copyright interests against
The wife of Edwyn Collins, a major 90s British alternative star with the band
Orange Juice, summed it up nicely, while describing how British record labels
had stolen her husband's work and blocked him from
posting it himself on online. She stated, "[We are] aware of who the
biggest bootleggers are. It's not the filesharers. [A Girl Like You is sold]
not by Edwyn, [but] by all sorts of respectable major labels whose licence to
sell it ran out years ago and who do not account to him."