Sony Music sues Marriott Hotels for alleged ‘rampant’ copyright infringement in social media posts

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Sony Music Entertainment (SME) has filed a lawsuit in the US against Marriott International, accusing the hotel company of “willful” infringement of copyright in social media posts.

“Marriott’s infringement is rampant, and not limited to content controlled by Sony Music,” SME said in a complaint filed on Friday (May 17) with the US District Court for Delaware.

The complaint says Sony Music has identified 931 infringements of its sound recordings, including works by Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Miley Cyrus, Shakira, and Doja Cat.

Of those alleged infringement, 913 were in social media posts made by hotels owned, managed or franchised by Marriott, while another 18 were from social media influencers paid by Marriott.

That number of infringements could expose Marriott to statutory damages of up to nearly $140 million under US copyright law.

And Sony Music’s complaint says those identified videos are likely “only the tip of the iceberg,” as it expects to find more during the trial’s discovery process.

Marriott International is the world’s largest hotel company by number of beds. It owns, manages or franchises hotels across the Marriott, Sheraton, Westin, Ritz-Carlton and Le Meridien brands.

Along with Sony Music, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a number of labels owned or affiliated with Sony, including Sony Music Latin, Arista Music, Arista Records, Ultra, LaFace, and Records Label LLC. Rimas Entertainment, the label home of Bad Bunny, is also listed as a plaintiff.

The complaint, which can be read in full here, states that Sony Music first notified Marriott International of alleged copyright infringements in January 2020, and has since sent multiple notices to Marriott, including as recently as March of this year.

Marriott initially entered into tolling agreements with the record company, but “then refused to enter into reasonable extensions or new tolling agreements,” Sony Music alleges.

The complaint asserts that Marriott’s use of Sony’s music in social media posts was at times carefully designed to capitalize on the popularity of a particular song or artist, and that Marriott was “well aware” of the impact of music to the visibility of its promotional social media posts.

“It is no accident that the Marriott Videos use some of the most popular sound recordings in Sony Music’s library.”

Sony Music Entertainment, in a legal complaint against Marriott International

“It is no accident that the Marriott Videos use some of the most popular sound recordings in Sony Music’s library,” the complaint states.

“On algorithm-driven social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, adding popular sound recordings to a post causes it to appear in the feeds of users who are interested in the music and might not otherwise come across the Marriott posts…

“Including these popular sound recordings leads users to discover posts when searching on the platform for content incorporating certain artists, songs or music-related tags.”

In certain posts, Marriott used the names of songs in captions and hashtags, and at times even dropped an artists’ name into the post. The complaint includes screencaps, such as the one below showing Beyoncé’s name used in a promotion for a Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dallas.

“Marriott often exploits recordings repeatedly when they are at the top of the charts or trending online,” the complaint alleges.

“For example, Marriott posted [a video] exploiting Beyoncé’s Texas Hold ‘Em on February 24, 2024  – three days after the track debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and two days before the track hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.”

The lawsuit seeks “damages in an amount to be determined at trial,” plus costs related to the trial, including attorneys’ fees.

This isn’t the first time Sony Music Entertainment has launched litigation over alleged unauthorized use of its music in advertising.

In 2021, it launched a lawsuit against Gymshark, alleging that the fitness apparel brand had infringed the copyright of 297 recordings in its ads.

The two companies settled the lawsuit out of court in 2022.

In November of last year, SME sued OFRA, alleging that the cosmetics brand “achieved its success through blatant, willful, and repeated copyright infringement of the sound recordings and musical compositions of various content owners” in social media posts, including “hundreds” of Sony Music’s sound recordings.

That case is ongoing.

SME’s parent company, Sony Music Group, recently took a firm stance against the unauthorized use of its intellectual property by AI developers.

The company sent a letter to 700 AI firms and music streaming services, notifying them that the company and its affiliates are “opting out” of having their content used to train AI.

The letter also suggested that these companies may have already infringed on Sony Music’s copyrights with their technologies.

Although a number of copyright lawsuits have been filed in the US by rights holders against AI developers, US courts have yet to issue a definitive ruling on whether the training of AI on copyrighted materials without permission amounts to infringement.Music Business Worldwide

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