Music Publishers Sue Roblox for Copyright Infringement Seeking No Less than $200 Million
ABKCO Music Inc. v. Roblox Corp.
Case No. 2:21-cv-04705
United States District Court for the Central District of California
Filed: June 9, 2021
On June 9, 2021, 28 music publishers and electronic music producer, Deadmau5, (collectively, the “Music Publishers”) together under the umbrella of the National Music Publisher’s Association (“NMPA”), sued the Roblox Corporation (“Roblox”) for direct copyright infringement, contributory copyright infringement, and vicarious copyright infringement, seeking no less than $200 million in damages. Roblox runs an online multiplayer game by the same name which is popular among children. The Music Publishers assert that Roblox has become the central destination for children’s copyright infringement and that Roblox has encouraged children to infringe copyrights of popular songs for financial gain.
Roblox gives users a lot of power to create, including the ability to upload audio files to accompany a user’s creations or virtual aesthetic. Roblox uses a currency, called Robux, to charge players for each audio upload, among other things. Because Roblox is primarily played by children, there is heavy moderation for appropriateness on everything uploaded to the game. The Music Publishers assert that this level of involvement by Roblox means that Roblox cannot be unaware of the infringement happening on its service, and even that the moderation supports the conclusion the infringements were willful on Roblox’s part. Further, the Music Publishers argue that because Robux are charged for each audio upload, Roblox is directly profiting off of each copyright infringement that happens on its service.
It is likely Roblox will try to claim it is protected from liability under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) safe harbor provision. A service provider, as Roblox is to its users in this context, can be protected from liability for its users’ actions under the DMCA’s safe harbor. To invoke safe harbor, a service provider must demonstrate that it,
“(A)(i) does not have actual knowledge that the material or an activity using the material on the system or network is infringing;
(ii) in the absence of such actual knowledge, is not aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent; or
(iii) upon obtaining such knowledge or awareness, acts expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material;
(B) does not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity, in a case in which the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity; and
(C) upon notification of claimed infringement as described in paragraph (3), responds expeditiously to remove, or disable access to, the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity.”
See 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(1)(A)-(C).
The Music Publishers argue that Roblox’s moderation is evidence of knowledge of the infringing material, and that the blame for the infringements cannot be shifted to a userbase of children. Actual knowledge would preclude safe harbor. If Roblox cannot prove that it behaved by these standards, it might not be able to be protected by the DMCA’s safe harbor.
The Music Publishers further argue that Roblox’s marketing such as, “[p]lay the hottest jams on ROBLOX all over town” coupled with its awareness that its player base is largely children who do not understand copyright law, supports the conclusion that Roblox encouraged players to violate copyright laws for its own profit. Exhibit A attached to the complaint is a 25-page, non-exhaustive list of famous songs that the Music Publishers assert Roblox infringed on, including Watermelon Sugar, Barbie Girl, Born To Be Wild, Cha Cha Slide, Cotton Eye Joe, X Gon Give It To Ya, and When Doves Cry.
This lawsuit may also be an advancement from the NMPA of the recent increase in DMCA claims against Twitch, and could be a sign of more lawsuits to come.
This is an ongoing lawsuit and we will provide updates in future posts.